Morsi must tread a tricky path between conservatives and liberals


The mettle of Egypt’s president-elect will be tested in forming a cabinet in coming days, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

THE EGYPTIAN cabinet, headed by prime minister Kamal El-Ganzouri, yesterday submitted its resignation to the ruling military council as president-elect Mohamed Morsi conducted consultations on the formation of a new government after his inauguration at the end of the month.

The historic victory in the country’s polarising presidential race for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate has serious implications for the movement, country and region.

Morsi, an engineer who earned a doctorate in California, belongs to the conservative core of the brotherhood which is at odds with young, progressive members. He operates in the shadow of Khairat El-Shater, the brotherhood’s powerful, charismatic deputy head, fundraiser and preferred presidential candidate.

Shater has credited Morsi with drafting of the brotherhood’s “nahda”, or renaissance document, which outlines how the movement intends to “restore Islam in its all-encompassing conception” by “subjugating people to God”, and achieving the “Islamisation of life”.

The text says that in order to carry on with this mission, a brotherhood president must sustain the revolution and carry out programmes, within the Islamic context, for economic and social development.

However, the brotherhood is not in a strong position to impose its faith-based “nahda” agenda. Although the presidency has given the 84-year old movement legitimacy and made it a key domestic political force, the military has countered its earlier electoral gains.

The lower house of parliament, where it had nearly half the seats, has been dissolved; the constitutional commission, chosen by parliament, is under threat of dismissal, and Morsi won with only 51.7 per cent of votes from a total of just 51 per cent of the electorate. For many, voting for Morsi was effectively a repudiation of rival Ahmed Shafik, the military’s man.

While soft pedalling the “nahda” mission could lose Morsi conservative backing within the brotherhood, adherence to this approach could put him on a collision course with progressive brotherhood members, liberals and revolutionaries who could return to the streets to protest his policies.

The ruling military council could impose fresh curbs on his powers and oppose his initiatives, prolonging the political vacuum and economic uncertainty which has followed the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago.

Morsi’s mettle will be tested in coming days when he appoints his entourage and cabinet. If he honours his promise to recruit figures from all factions, Christians and women, he could counter suspicions that he will try to impose the brotherhood’s programme rather than work for the benefit of all Egyptians.

On the regional plane, Morsi’s triumph could encourage off-shoots of the brotherhood which have taken root in most Arab countries to launch bids for power. The Syrian Brotherhood is deeply involved in the armed struggle in that country. The Jordanian Brotherhood, boxed in by the king, could be emboldened to press for fair representation in government.

Qatar, which has funded and extended political support to the Egyptian Brotherhood, could expect to receive a boost as a regional player. Former patron Saudi Arabia, which opposes brotherhood ascendancy and finances the ultra-orthodox salafis, could be diminished. Riyadh would be particularly displeased if Morsi, now a leading Sunni figure on the scene, decides to pursue better relations with Shia Iran, regarded by the Saudis as their chief regional competitor.

Morsi has pledged to honour Egypt’s foreign commitments, including, presumably, the peace treaty with Israel, but he could try to ease the Israeli siege and blockade of Gaza, ruled by Hamas, the brotherhood’s Palestinian branch.

Since this could strain Egypt’s relations with Israel and the US, the military would be likely to intervene and preserve the status quo – at Morsi’s expense.