Egypt, No Longer the Country We Knew

New president Mohammed Morsi must deliver on his election promises, such as giving the people social justice and freedom, while keeping the Muslim Brotherhood happy and the army at bay.

The joy of the thousands of Mohammed Morsi's supporters, who packed Tahrir Square in Cairo last Sunday, peaked when the head of the central elections committee in Egypt, Farouk Sultan, announced the victory of their candidate, the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sultan's announcement bore an implicit declaration of the emergence of a new Egypt. This is a country with new governmental systems, in contrast to the situation under the old regime, where the public was fearful of its government.

For the first time in the history of the largest Arab state, the public, in free democratic elections, brought to power a president who is not a former army officer. (Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak and Morsi's rival, Ahmed Shafiq, were all from the armed forces. )

In contrast, Morsi is a senior member of an Islamist movement which was outlawed in Egypt for many years. Unlike his predecessors, the new president was elected by the people, even if not by a large majority. He did not come to power in a military coup, as occurred with Naguib in 1952. In the new Egypt, as in other countries of the Middle East, political Islam has taken over the governmental system. But the young people in the square and, of course, the army will continue to play a central role in the country.

The new Egypt is a young republic which will quickly have to find a balance among the diverse political forces that are active within it. "Egypt has changed before our eyes," says Yitzhak Levanon, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. It is no longer the country we knew."

On Wednesday, three days after the announcement of Morsi's victory, the representatives of the Islamists and the military council were still far from agreement about the venue at which the new president would take the oath of office. Morsi eventually took a symbolic oath of office on Friday in Tahrir Square and then yesterday was sworn in as president before the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo ).

In a country where 50 million people have the right to vote, only 882,751 votes separated Shafiq, the candidate of the military council, and Morsi. Shafiq - the last prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak - managed to stay close, despite an aggressive campaign against him waged by the Muslim Brotherhood. Shafiq himself put up a pathetic fight. At times it seemed as though his only wish was to get through the elections in one piece. The decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve parliament also hurt Shafiq's chances, reinforcing the feeling held by many Egyptians that the military council was trying to foment a "soft revolution" by constitutional methods.

Each of the sides will try to hold on to its power bases. The army will keep a grip on the security establishment and the Constitutional Court, while the Muslim Brotherhood will seek to woo public opinion, which is against antidemocratic measures. Morsi will have to decide whether to take a confrontational approach, with the intention of reaching a conciliation with the council and establishing a regime that will integrate the different power centers, or to engage the military in a head-on collision, as he promised in his election campaign.

In the campaign, Morsi promised to annul the constitutional amendment announced by the Supreme Military Council, which aims to make the president of Egypt more of a figurehead - perhaps like the Queen of England - than an all-powerful ruler like Mubarak.

According to Prof. Yoram Meital, an expert on Egypt from Ben-Gurion University and the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy, the army's move to change the president's powers recalls the actions of the Free Officers Movement in Egypt from 1952 to 1954. "The Muslim Brotherhood and the army officers led the revolution then," he notes. "At a certain stage, the heads of the army took legislative powers into their hands. The situation today is different, because now it is the army that is trying to seize control of a revolution led by civilian forces. But then, too, it was a hard struggle between the officers and the Muslim Brotherhood. In October 1954, radical elements in the Muslim Brotherhood movement initiated an effort to assassinate Nasser, which failed. In the wake of that attempt, the military regime jailed hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the great confrontation between the two sides began."

Another former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, is certain which way the winds are blowing in Egypt. "The army is finished; it is not strong enough," he says. "The Muslim Brotherhood was victorious in the elections to parliament and to the presidency, and they will achieve control in parliament again."

Implement promises now

Less than a day after Morsi was declared the election winner, a new website was launched, the Morsi Meter (, in Arabic and English ). The site lists the 64 promises Morsi made during the presidential campaign and wants surfers to examine his achievements versus his promises after his first hundred days as president. The promises are categorized under the rubrics of "Bread" (economics and food ), "Security," "Traffic," "Cleanliness" (such as a promise to fine drivers of cars that cause pollution ) and "Fuel" (including a promise to supply gas to every home in Egypt ).

Morsi's voters, particularly those who are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood, want him to implement the promises today, not tomorrow. Similar wishes were voiced this week on the Egyptian TV channel Nile. A group of supporters of the secular movement Kafiya (which backed Morsi, though mainly to avert a Shafiq victory ) demonstrated in Tahrir Square and held up signs demanding "Bread, social justice and freedom."

"As I see it, their message is that the elections are over and now they want to make it clear to Morsi why they voted for him. They want an improvement in their living standard, freedom - that is, not a theocracy - and, of course, social justice," Prof. Meital says.

The fundamental dilemma with which Morsi will have to cope is between being the president of all Egypt's citizens and fulfilling his commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood. "For every decision Morsi will want to make, every significant move he makes, he will need approval from both the army and the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie," Levanon notes.

The Muslim Brotherhood has undergone quite a few transformations since its foundation in Egypt 84 years ago. Founder Hassan al-Banna viewed it as a movement with an Islamic orientation that would work to accelerate social and cultural reforms. The political step now being taken by the Muslim Brotherhood is consistent with al-Banna's approach in many ways. Sayyid Qutb was one of the movement's leaders in the period after al-Banna. He urged the Brotherhood to dissociate itself from any form of Western government.

However, according to Dr. Mira Tzoreff, from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, "Anyone who tries to label the Muslim Brotherhood as 'fundamentalist' or claim that it will 'divorce itself from Israel and the West' is mistaken and misleading. The Muslim Brotherhood never sought to establish a theocracy, not in Egypt and not in the Arab arena. Their demand is for a higher dosage of Islamic values. Other than in the Qutb period, there is no demand in the movement's history for a total severance from the West."

Rules of the game

In the previous decade, the movement was far closer to the al-Banna model and took a positive view of taking part in government - especially after its impressive success in the 2005 parliamentary elections, when it received nearly a third of the votes. Internal power struggles led to the removal of the previous supreme guide in favor of Badie.

Badie, who is considered a "Qutbist," steered the movement away from the Mubarak regime and from taking part in the government. He also promoted other conservative leaders within the movement to senior positions, such as the movement's original candidate for president, Khairat al-Shatar, and Morsi. Despite his Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Southern California, his fluent English and the Western education his children received, Morsi has been known in recent years as one of the leading conservatives in the top ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

"I remember, to his detriment, mainly his part in drafting the platform of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was leaked in 2007," Tzoreff says. "He was responsible for two clauses. One stated that a woman or a Copt could not become president in a country with an Islamic majority. And the other spoke about the establishment of a council of ulema sages [scholars of Sharia law] which would ratify every decision of the president in both internal and external affairs. That led to an open dispute between Morsi and the young members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They demanded a shake up in the ranks of the leadership, but in vain."

There is no doubt that Morsi is very close to the movement's supreme guide, even though he was not Badie's main candidate for the presidency. Badie supported him only after al-Shatar was disqualified. The 61-year-old Morsi has justly earned his reputation for being a conservative - "even very conservative," Prof. Meital adds.

Tzoreff and Meital agree that a change has been discernible in the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in the past few months. Morsi, al-Shatar and their colleagues no longer view themselves as leaders of just the movement. They have become politicians, part of the governmental system of Egypt. In recent weeks Morsi has also made several comments which, according to Tzoreff and Meital, show that he understands the new rules of the game.

For example, one of his spokesmen said that he intends to appoint a woman and a Copt as his deputies. That may have been intended as a counterweight to his notorious 2007 remark on the subject. Morsi also says he intends to honor Egypt's existing agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel, and emphasizes that Egypt will be a "civilian" (not religious ) state.

A senior political source in Jerusalem said that Israel does not expect changes in its security relations with Egypt at this time. Despite that statement, it is hard to ignore Morsi's election campaign. Just a month and a half ago, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate sat on the stage at a rally in which a few of his close associates shouted: "Morsi will liberate Gaza" and "Jerusalem will be the capital of the united Arab nations."