Mohammed Morsi, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate, has won the Egyptian presidential elections by a narrow majority.
The country’s last four presidents over the past six decades have all came from the ranks of the military. This is the first time modern Egypt will be headed by an Islamist and by a freely elected civilian.
The election commission said Morsi won with 51.7% of last weekend’s run-off vote versus 48.3 for Shafiq. Turnout was 51%. Voter turnout in the first round stood at 46%.
His win is the cause of some concern for Israel. However he did declare that Egypt “will uphold its international agreements” – including, one assumes, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Furthermore:
In a non-confrontational speech, he did not mention the last-minute power grab by the ruling military that stripped the president of most of his major powers.
The world was quick to congratulate Morsi on his victory, cavalierly forgetting the above-mentioned power-grab by the military plus the fact that this win will ensure that Egypt will not be returning to secular rule any time soon. The very fact that Gazans were ecstatically celebrating Morsi’s victory ought to give one pause for thought.
Indeed, Dr. Reuven Berko, writing in Yisrael Hayom, asks if Morsi’s victory is good for Hamas?
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, thinks that Morsi’s rise will prompt Egypt to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sister organization. Hamas believes that Egypt’s support will facilitate its leadership over the Palestinian people, make the PLO unnecessary, and push Egypt into a clash with Israel that will ultimately fulfill the vision of “liberating Palestine.”
When Hamas and its subsidiaries fired rockets into Israel from Sinai – before the rockets started coming from Gaza as well – there were those who thought that the rocket fire was initiated by internal Egyptian groups, in cooperation with Hamas, who wanted to create a provocation along the border with Israel. Their aim, some thought, was to prompt Israel to attack Sinai, which would in turn compel many radical constituents in Sinai to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood and create the much-anticipated crisis between Egypt and Israel.
It is hard to believe that an orchestrated crisis with Israel was in any way a part of Morsi’s presidential campaign. There is room to speculate that a new regime, under Morsi’s leadership, facing complex constitutional issues, social and economic problems and a delicate relationship with the army, would want just the opposite: calm with Israel. Millions of destitute people, who voted for Morsi in desperation, expect him and the Muslim Brotherhood to fulfill their campaign promises. This is a complex challenge that could jeopardize the brotherhood’s reputation.
Indeed, Morsi has already announced that he intends to create a welfare state and institute equality among Muslims and Copts, and he will most likely need the help of the U.S. and the West if he plans on feeding the millions of hungry citizens and rejuvenating Egypt’s economy.
In this light, it is certainly a possibility that Hamas, which is daring to fire rockets into Israel from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, will be the one to have its hopes dashed. The fact that Syria and Iran no longer support Hamas has provided Egypt with leverage it could use as a straitjacket to subdue Hamas in the future. It is clear that the rockets fired by Hamas and its affiliates are an effort to impose a delusional agenda on Israel, Egypt and the West. This agenda is not in line with the general interests of this region, where the blood of Syrian civilians slaughtered by Hamas’ former patron flood the streets.
There is no doubt that Egypt’s new rulers will have to invest serious efforts into foiling Sinai terror, for Egypt’s sake. Sinai, however, is where Morsi enjoys wide support among the Bedouin.
We can only hope that Dr. Berko is not being too optimistic.
As for Israel’s reaction, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel expects there to be continued cooperation with Egypt under Mohammed Morsi.
“Israel appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects its results,” said Netanyahu.
“Israel expects the continuation of the cooperation with the Egyptian regime on the basis of the peace treaty between the two countries, which is an interest of both peoples and contributes to the stability of the region,” he added.
The Times of Israel offers us an in-depth view of Mohammed Morsi, who is still somewhat of an engima to the West.
He spent time in jail during the Hosni Mubarak regime, but not as long as some fellow Islamists. He is well-educated, having studied at the University of Southern California, yet still betrays his rural roots. He rose through the ranks of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood as a lackluster but loyal foot soldier.
The US-trained engineer who rode some improbable twists and turns in Egypt’s 16-month transition to democracy is an enigma: Despite his education, he sometimes struggles to communicate in public and can be off-putting to some secular elites.
The bespectacled and bearded Morsi squeaked to victory in the freest election in Egypt’s history, and now the 60-year-old university professor must prove his mettle by standing up to the ruling generals who in recent days have stripped the presidency of real power.
For 35 years, Morsi obediently followed the Muslim Brotherhood’s strict rules, abiding by the principle of unquestioned obedience to its supreme leader — a position that changed hands five times during that period and currently is held by Mohammed Badei.
Morsi has dutifully mirrored the group’s strategy of couching a hardline doctrine with short-term pragmatism. In an example that looms large now that he has been elected, Morsi is anti-Israel but he does not call for annulling Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty.
His history makes clear he will not be the comfortable interlocutor for Israel that Mubarak was. His first active role in the Brotherhood was through membership in an “anti-Zionist” committee in his Nile Delta province of Sharkiya in late 1980s, promoting rejection of normalization with the Jewish state. Brotherhood officials have said he will not meet with Israelis, but also will not prevent other officials from doing so.
Morsi, who served in the parliament, is said to have never been the ideas man in the Brotherhood. Instead, he served as an implementer of policy. Critics say Morsi is solidly part of the hard-line wing of the Brotherhood that has shown little of the flexibility or willingness to compromise. Throughout his rise in the group, Morsi has been closest to the two figures who are now the Brotherhood’s powerful deputy leaders, Mahmoud Ezzat and Khairat el-Shater.
“Morsi has no talents but he is faithful and obedient to the group’s leaders, who see themselves as above the other Muslims,” said Abdel-Sattar el-Meligi, a former senior Brotherhood figure who broke with the group, particularly because of el-Shater’s grip on the organization. “Morsi would play any role the leaders assign him to, but with no creativity and no uniqueness.”
As a result of this reputation, Egyptians widely assume Morsi’s presidency will be unofficially subordinate to the Brotherhood’s strongman and chief strategist, el-Shater, who was the group’s first choice for president. But he was disqualified by election authorities because of his prison conviction during the Mubarak regime. Morsi served only as a backup candidate, earning him the unflattering nickname, “Spare Tire.”
Morsi showed some savvy by adjusting his campaign. During the first round in May, Morsi promised implementation of Islamic Shariah law and campaigned next to clerics, seeking to rally his group’s base and as well as other Islamists. “The day will come when the Sharia of the truth is put into effect,” he said in one TV show.
But when the race boiled down to a runoff with Mubarak-era politician Ahmed Shafiq, Morsi tacked to the center. He went after the secular vote by switching his slogan to “Our strength is in our unity,” and calling himself “the candidate of the revolution.” Recent posters showed him with a priest and a woman not wearing a conservative headscarf.
He excelled in primary and secondary schools and then joined the school of engineering and quickly became a member of teaching staff of Zaqaziq University in his home province. Morsi went to the United States where he obtained a doctorate at USC. Unlike many, he chose to return to Egypt and taught in his local university from 1982-85, in precision metal surfaces.
Morsi says he wants to overhaul Egypt’s corrupt and inefficient government agencies and repair the economy. But the Brotherhood may have little chance to implement anything from its agenda: In recent days the military council has disbanded the Islamist-dominated parliament and grabbed sweeping powers that leave the president with little authority over important policy. The question now is whether he will play a leading role in taking on the generals and reversing these decrees, as supporters demand.
Interesting and possibly uncomfortable times lie ahead for Israel in its relations with Egypt.