If the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy is officially announced victorious this week, his name will go down in history as Egypt’s first civilian president elected democratically.
However, his potential presidential mandate is surrounded by much uncertainty. The 61-year-old Islamist leader, widely known for his incontestable loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to be torn between a military junta reluctant to concede full power to him, as a president from outside the barracks, and a mother organization with its own agenda.
At press time, the official results had not yet been announced, but preliminary results showed that Morsy had garnered roughly 51 percent of the nearly 25 million votes, defeating Ahmed Shafiq, ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former commander of Egypt’s air force.
“A dark future awaits Morsy as president,” contended Magdy Saad, a 34-year-old member of the Muslim Brotherhood. “He will have either to surrender completely to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which means he will be committing political suicide, or resist.”
Like many observers, Saad believes that the security apparatus, the military, and the bureaucracy, widely labeled as “the deep state,” will conspire to derail Morsy’s presidency and convince the masses that he is responsible for their unsolved daily problems.
“We will face daily shortages in basic commodities such as fuel and food supplies. Eventually, people will take to the streets against Morsy,” added Saad, who froze his activities within the group due to his disenchantment with its politics since the revolution.
Morsy’s victory comes in the midst of glaring attempts by the generals to tighten their grip on power at the expense of civilian forces, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s most powerful political group. Last week, the Brotherhood-SCAF tension heightened following the Supreme Constitutional Court’s verdict that dissolved the Islamist-dominated Parliament.
Three days later, the SCAF issued a new decree that returned legislative powers to the military and denies the newly-elected president any right to interfere in military matters. Additionally, the decree, known as the supplementary Constitutional Declaration, gave the generals the right to appoint a new Constituent Assembly if the existing one fails to perform its duties. This clause challenges the Islamist-dominated assembly that Parliament had elected shortly before its dissolution.
The Brothers had voiced their opposition to both the verdict and the military decree and warned that a military coup was underway. On Tuesday, they called for a million-man march in Tahrir Square to protest the generals’ recent decisions.
“Morsy stands between a rock and a hard place. He is squeezed between the SCAF that has already constrained his will with the [supplementary Constitutional Declaration] and the Muslim Brotherhood, which insists on acting independently [from other civilian forces],” argued Saad, one of the group’s critical young voices.
Since Mubarak’s ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood has been vehemently criticized for acting unilaterally and antagonizing other political groups. Secular and revolutionary forces were long under the impression that the Brothers had already struck a power-sharing deal with the SCAF, which prevented them from taking confrontational positions on military brutalities against protesters.
Later on, the Brothers’ insistence on filling the majority of the Constituent Assembly’s seats alongside Salafi political parties alienated secular parties further and aroused fears that the group seeks to write a constitution that secures an Islamist hegemony over politics. The generals have capitalized on the secular-Islamist divide to interfere in laying out further phases of the transitional period.
Meanwhile, the group’s credibility was shaken after it went back on initial pledges to compete over no more than a third of parliamentary seats and not to seek the presidency. All these assurances that the group would not take over the state were reversed when it decided to run for more than half of the legislative seats and to nominate a candidate for the presidency.
Such policies, coupled with Islamist parliamentarians’ inability to address people’s daily concerns, are believed to have affected the group’s popularity in a few short months. In the first round of the presidential race, the group garnered nearly 25 percent of the votes, versus more than 40 percent during the parliamentary elections.
For Saad, Morsy might have a better chance standing up to the generals if he builds a large coalition with all political forces and grooms himself as a leader of “all Egyptians.”
He needs to “substitute the Egyptian people with the Muslim Brotherhood and to include political leaders from different groups in his inner circles.”
“Morsy’s popular support should not be dependent on orders handed down by Muslim Brotherhood leaders to their followers so that they take to the streets. But all the [12.8 million] people who voted for him should take to the streets. At the end of the day, the actual size of the Muslim Brotherhood’s organization does not exceed 150,000 members,” argued Saad.
In the lead up to the runoff, Morsy promised to resign from his post as president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and affirmed that he would be loyal to the Egyptian people rather than just the Brothers if he ascends to the nation’s highest executive post.
But Ashraf El Sherif, an American University in Cairo political scientist and expert on the group, said Morsy would not distance himself from the Brothers.
“Morsy would not consider himself independent from the organization,” said Sherif. “All his life, Morsy has been very loyal to the group. He also lacks the imagination to take the initiative or act independently.”
Morsy was born in 1951 in the Delta province of Sharqiya. He studied engineering at Cairo University before he went to the University of Southern California to pursue a doctorate. According to his resumé, posted on a Muslim Brotherhood website, Morsy worked as assistant professor at California State University, Northridge in the early 1980s.
He returned to Egypt in the mid-1980s to teach at Zagazig University’s Faculty of Engineering.
Unlike many leading Brothers, Morsy’s legacy does not emanate from many years of imprisonment or decades of sacrifice to the long-persecuted organization. His name began to echo within the Muslim Brotherhood only in the early 2000s after his victory in parliamentary elections.
Since then, his ascent has been related to his ties with influential Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater. For many insiders, Morsy’s complacent nature and unquestionable commitment to the group’s internal discipline and order gained him Shater’s support.
“For Shater, being trustworthy and obedient is the most important thing,” said Abdel Rahman Ayyash, a former Brother.
Shater, who always preferred to remain backstage, empowered Morsy and pushed him to the organization’s forefront. With Shater’s blessing, Morsy eventually seized the group’s most crucial portfolios, including the political and media divisions.
In April 2011, the Brotherhood’s Shura Council, the group’s top decision-making body, chose Morsy as president of the Freedom and Justice Party. At that point, he resigned from the Guidance Bureau in an attempt to prove the party’s autonomy.
“Shater always prefers to entrust people who are close to him with crucial positions, and this is why Morsy is president of [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] party,” added Ayyash.
In April, the Muslim Brotherhood decided to nominate him for president as a back-up candidate to Shater, who was later disqualified for his unresolved criminal record. Since then, Morsy has been the subject of ruthless political jokes that dismissed him as “the spare tire” nominee. Yet, the mockery did not discourage him from continuing the race.
The new president is expected to take the oath of office by 30 June.