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Egypt's first Islamist president takes oath of office

Egyptian president-elect Mohamed Morsi addressed a throng of adoring supporters in Tahrir Square today. He is from the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist organization in the world. So what does that mean, exactly?

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Unfortunately for Mr. Morsi, the fantasy of an Obama White House cheering section for the Muslim Brotherhood is just that. In fact, Morsi will be lucky to wield much power within Egypt, let along abroad, his title as president and Limbaugh's fertile imagination notwithstanding. This evening in Cairo he addressed a cheering crowd of supporters in Tahrir Square, promising an inclusive government, social justice, and equal protection for all Egyptian citizens. He also spoke of a bright economic future. 

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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As a sign of that caution, Morsi insisted in his speech today that the peace will be kept with Israel. That doesn't rule out demands for changes going forwards (the restrictions on Egyptian military movements in the Sinai rankle Egyptian nationalists of all stripes, Islamist or not), but is far from red-meat for the anti-Zionist crowd.

But he is not in the position to deliver on any of these politician's platitudes - or on some kind of secret agenda - by himself. The simple fact is that the Egyptian military remains the most powerful government institution. Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has run Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, and his fellow officers have been in the middle of every major negotiation about Egypt's future since. The announcement of Morsi's victory with 51.7 percent of the vote was delayed as the military sought to extract concessions from the Brotherhood's candidate. Since, the military has been negotiating a role for itself in the cabinet.

Earlier this week, a military spokesmen told an Egyptian television station that Morsi had already agreed to allow Tantawi to stay on as defense minister, and the army has also been negotiating control over the interior ministry, which oversees the national police, and a major role for itself in drafting a new Egyptian constitution. 

While Morsi has electoral legitimacy, neither he nor the Brothers have the ability to take the military establishment head on, even if they wanted to. They probably won't. The group was founded 84 years ago, and while for a brief time it considered the armed overthrow of the Egyptian establishment, the Brothers' last act of violence was over 60 years ago. Waves of government crackdowns down the decades, with leaders spending years in jail for their political beliefs, have bred caution into their bones.

Morsi has other realities to contend with. Almost half of Egyptian voters favored the military's candidate for president, Ahmed Shafiq, a stunning reality when measured against the presumption that a large majority of Egyptian's favor fundamental poltical change. Egypt's various secular political groups, from socialists to liberal capitalist groups, don't intend to roll over in the face of one presidential victory. And Egypt's vast tourism industry, already hard hit by 18 months of political turmoil, would probably have a lot to say about efforts to ban booze or bikinis from Egypt.

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