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For region's Islamists, Morsi win in Egypt expands sense of the possible

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which now controls both the presidency and much of parliament, has counterparts and allies across the region who are expecting President Morsi to bring change.

By Correspondent / July 12, 2012

In this Wednesday, July 11, photo, Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, center left, walks with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, center right, at the al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Morsi chose Saudi Arabia as his first destination abroad, a Mubarak ally that strongly disapproved of the uprising that ousted him.

HOPD/Egyptian Presidency/AP

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Cairo

Just a year and a half ago, Mohamed Morsi was a member of a banned organization, arrested in his home as protests swelled against then-President Hosni Mubarak. Yesterday, he made his first official visit abroad as president of Egypt. (Editor's note: This sentence has been edited to correctly state the day of President Morsi's visit.)

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President Morsi chose as his first destination Saudi Arabia, a Mubarak ally that strongly disapproved of the uprising that ousted him. Morsi is seeking to preserve Egypt's longstanding ties with Saudi, even though the monarchs there harbor deep suspicion of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that nominated Morsi as a candidate.

Yet some observers expect that  Morsi – Egypt's first Islamist president – will bring changes not only in Egypt's relationship with the Gulf heavyweight, but with the rest of the region. While Egypt's military retains extensive power and remains a strong force for the status quo, the ripple effects of Morsi’s rise will be felt across the Middle East, both symbolically and practically.

Morsi’s win holds symbolic value for Islamist groups, says Michael Hanna, a Middle East analyst at the New York-based Century Foundation. “It validates in a very big way the turn to organized politics by Islamist groups and it obviously marks a moment of ascendance,” he says. “It probably sets a benchmark for the other Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and Islamist groups in the region … in terms of their expectations. It expands the notion of the possible.”

Pressure to be more than a symbol

In Libya, which just held its first election since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, the local Muslim Brotherhood affiliate claims it has secured a respectable bloc of seats in the new national congress, based on preliminary results. Islamist party Ennahda in Tunisia took a plurality of seats last fall in elections for Tunisia’s constitutional assembly, the first post-uprising vote there. And in Gaza, Brotherhood offshoot Hamas has ruled since 2007.

Even in the Gulf, Morsi’s win may inspire some Islamist groups to reach higher, says Sultan Al Qassemi, a political commentator based in the United Arab Emirates.

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