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.
(Page 3 of 3)
“It's challenging because President Morsi and the team with him, the Muslim Brotherhood, need to prove to the world that the Muslim Brotherhood are a threat to nobody, that the Muslim Brotherhood are capable of running a country like Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood are inclusive, they do not exclude any Egyptians, they do not exclude based on religion or race or gender,” Drobi says.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Turmoil in Egypt
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Hanna says Syrian Brotherhood leaders expressed dismay to him after the Egyptian Brotherhood took nearly half the seats of parliament in elections last year and promptly alienated many non-Islamists by acting in a way that belied its promises of inclusiveness, particularly by partnering with ultraconservative Islamists to dominate the constitutional assembly.
The Syrian Brotherhood leaders “definitely felt they were being tarred by the actions of the Egyptian MB,” says Hanna. “I'm sure that they'll be watching [Morsi] closely because perceptions about the Syrian MB are to some extent shaped by the Egyptian experience.”
Will Morsi's influence be merely symbolic?
Yet for all that some expect of Morsi, and despite the domestic pressure to turn away from some of Mubarak’s policies, it is unclear how much control he will actually have over Egypt’s foreign policy. Before he took office, the military council ruling Egypt amended Egypt’s interim constitution, limiting the president’s power and extending its own. The generals rescinded the president’s ability to declare war without their approval, and also reactivated a dormant national security council to help steer the country in times of crisis.
“Foreign policy is going to be one of those areas, particularly in terms of sensitive regional issues, that is going to be zealously guarded by the military,” says Hanna.
While Morsi theoretically has the authority to appoint government ministers, in reality he will cede some ministries to the generals. He has not yet appointed a cabinet, and it is unclear which side will control the foreign ministry. Regardless of who the foreign minister is, the most sensitive regional files – like Gaza policy – have for years been handled by Egyptian intelligence, and it is unlikely that will change immediately.
Yet Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, says the military’s power over foreign policy doesn’t mean policy will be completely static. In the case of Hamas, for example, “even if Morsi doesn't control foreign policy, the symbolic aspect of the office is important,” says Dr. Hamid.“The Brotherhood will certainly try to have a say in foreign policy, so I don't think we should underestimate that.”
Many will be watching closely to see how Morsi manages relations with Gulf countries, where he faces strong skepticism. Saudi Arabia hosted members of the Brotherhood in exile in the 1950s and 1960s, during the crackdown of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser. That welcome ended as offshoot Islamist groups demanding political reform, as well as some violent Islamist groups, were established in the Gulf, threatening the monarchs' power.
The wealthy monarchies' promises of hefty aid packages for Egypt’s ailing economy are likely to compel Morsi to do what he must to assuage the monarchs’ fears this time around.
Mr. Qassemi says how Gulf-Egypt relations will play out depends on the overtures the Brotherhood makes in the next few weeks. In choosing Saudi Arabia for his first visit, and promising, soon after his election, not to “export the revolution,” Morsi appears to be making those efforts.