Tuesday 3 July 2012
Last Update 3 July 2012 5:50 pm
When it comes to judging Egypt’s recently sworn-in new leader Muhammad Mursi, we should avoid attaching labels or succumbing to knee-jerk perceptions. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which the new president is drawn, is not a religious or political monolith and it already appears that President Mursi has a few surprises up his sleeve.
Certainly, his critics will be able to point to past rhetoric indicating Mursi’s socially conservative or anti-Israel sentiments while shaking their heads, but just as every democratically-elected head-of-state in the world has discovered, campaigning for office is one thing; the job itself necessitates compromise — and sometimes the blurring of one’s personal ideals for the sake of real politic.
Unlike his tepid uninspiring earlier speeches, those delivered post-election have been electrifying and unifying. He is reaching out to liberals and Coptic Christians and has promised to form an inclusive government of technocrats that can represent all Egyptians whether Muslim or Christian, secular or devout, conservative or liberal.
It’s apparent that this unassuming US-educated engineer has already been dealing. Just weeks ago, he and his colleagues were railing against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) pledging to instigate a new and bloody revolution should Mursi’s rival Ahmed Shafiq be handed the top spot or the military retain its powers once a civilian government was in place. Shafiq, who quit the country with his family the day following the election results, says he was informed on the basis of the ballot that he would be Egypt’s next president – and was shocked to hear the announcement naming Mursi.
There may be other elites who have packed-up and gone too or so my bank manager tells me bemoaning mega withdrawals of funds from his branch. Shafiq may be concerned about lawsuits filed against him alleging corruption but others of his ilk may be jumping the gun. On Saturday, SCAF officially handed its powers to President Mursi who attended a military parade held in his honor. Judging from the backslapping between the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces Mohamed Hussein El-Tantawi and the Islamist leader, the warm smiles and mutual compliments, the army that controls between 30-40 percent of the country’s economy, is still a force with which to be reckoned behind the scenes.
In any case, the day that Mursi took his oath, the divide between him and the military automatically diminished. Unless Mursi is set on ruling a lawless jungle, a shrinking economy and a feuding state vulnerable to outside enemies, he has to make peace with SCAF on just about any terms. Like it or not, although he might think of himself as a man of the people, one of the people, he isn’t any longer and can never be again. He is the rais, the bey, the pasha. He will meet with deference and subservience. He has the option to move into Mubarak’s palaces, be chauffeured around in stretch limousines and flown in private planes. He will be surrounded by experienced foreign policy advisors even as his diehard former Brotherhood colleagues will be tugging on his coat sleeves asking their comrade to begin implementing the movement’s core ideology.
He will, no doubt, be influenced by the mother of his children, the cousin he married when she was just 17-years-old, Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, an unglamorous, non-university-educated woman of cover who rejects being known as Egypt’s First Lady, preferring the title “First Servant” or “the President’s wife” or “Umm Ahmed” (Mother of Ahmed, the couple’s first-born son). She is insisting upon living in an ordinary home in Cairo rather than a palace and has always eschewed VIP seating during political rallies. If he risks being dazzled by the high life or public adulation, his wife will keep him grounded.
Progressive youths on social media sites have turned Mahmoud into an object of derision, someone not fit to represent the women of Egypt. The ladies who lunch in the Four Seasons, sip latte in Cilantro, shop at Carrefour, summer in their beach villa on the northern coast and winter in a five-star resort in Sharm will find nothing in common with the bespectacled Umm Ahmed, but Mursi’s lady is undeniably representative of the majority of Egyptian women struggling against poverty to feed and educate their children while praying that God is on their side.
Like President Obama, who prior to his inauguration spoke for the aspirations of the far to middle left only to be forced to move to the center and leaving a litter of broken promises behind him once he was in the Oval Office, so President Mohamed Mursi will have to negotiate religious, political and social minefields, deferring to the military as he goes, to find his own way.
In the meantime, many Egyptians are grateful that his win has averted continued protest – even civil war. Most are cautiously watching and waiting before making up their minds. Some, like the Bedouin taxi driver I spoke with in Sharm el Sheikh yesterday, are wildly enthusiastic. “I would die for Mursi,” he told me. “But if he goes back on his promises I’ll vote him out in four years time.” Who can argue with that.