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The Brotherhood's Morsi: Wildcard of Egypt's presidential race

Pre-election polls say Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi does not stand a chance, but with powerful Islamist organisation behind him, Morsi could be the next big surprise

Yasmine Fathi , Thursday 17 May 2012
Mohamed Morsi
Mohamed Morsi, head of the Brotherhood's newly formed Justice and Freedom Party (Photo: Reuters)
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Since he announced his intention to run for Egypt’s top office, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, has been the subject of much ridicule.

His electoral run came after the powerful Khairat El-Shater was disqualified from the race because of a previous criminal conviction. This led critics to brand Morsi as nothing more than a “spare tire,” a “substitute” and a “second choice.” In fact, the stigma of being the Brotherhood’s second best has haunted Morsi and dampened his campaign. He has been disparaged for lacking El-Shater’s charisma and depth. In fact, everything about him has been criticised, from his clothes to his body language during popular rallies, to his lack of eloquence when addressing the public.

The Brotherhood hit back by reminding everyone that Morsi is a scholar, an engineer, a professor and a genius who worked at NASA in the US at one point but opted to return to the motherland to fight a regime that repressed Egyptians; a man who earned the title of the “best parliamentarian in the world,” in 2005.

However, his dismissal ratings in public polls have not helped either. Since the presidential race began, weekly polls have been conducted by various organisations on the popularity of each candidate, with Morsi repeatedly failing to make it to the top three. To date, the top contenders are former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh and Mubarak era minister Ahmed Shafiq. The order changes repeatedly but the three have managed to retain their popularity. Morsi, however, has continuously lagged behind, coming up only in fourth place. At one point, he got only 0.9 per cent of approval, compared to Moussa and Aboul-Fotouh who had 11 per cent each.

However, political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah believes that the polls don’t necessarily reflect reality in the streets. “Public opinion polls are a new phenomenon here in Egypt and are often not very scientific and do not represent the different factions in society,” he explains.

Indeed, if numbers counted, then Morsi is doing well. Since El-Shater was ousted from the race, Morsi’s campaign has been moving at rocket speed, with his public rallies attracting supporters across the country. The Brotherhood's organisational skills were obvious as his rallies picked up pace and increased in popularity, attracting thousands of supporters as he toured the campaign trail.

The Brotherhood created their own Ultras, naming them "El-Nahdawys," a twist on Morsi's El-Nahda campaign programme. Massive human chains have been created to welcome Morsi as he hopped from one province to another. In Gharbiya, his supporters formed a 15-mile long human shield to receive him. Now, his campaign has announced its ambition to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by creating the "longest human chain," from Aswan to Alexandria.

While his critics gripe that he doesn't have a chance, his supporters chant at every rally that "Morsi has men behind him," in a message to his cynics, that the only result will be victory for Morsi. He is the only candidate who has both a newspaper, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) paper and Masr25, the party's official channel to work as a mouthpiece for him. All day long, Masr25 plays ad after ad to promote him and his campaign.

Ahmed Abdel Aty, the general coordinator of Morsi’s campaign, says that these rallies speak for themselves. “Yes, we started our campaign late, but God has helped us overcome this obstacle,” says Morsi. “We have more events and are more of a presence in the street than any other candidate.”

Indeed, Morsi, who heads the FJP, has visited almost every single governorate in Egypt, with the exception of Qalyoubeya, Fayoum, Beni Sueif and Matrouh. “But by this Thursday we are hoping to have visited these governorates too,” explains Abdel Aty.

The delay in the launching of Morsi’s campaign is not the only problem affecting him. Another hitch is the gripes many Egyptians now have against Islamists’ behavior in the first post-Mubarak parliament.

Islamists won the majority in parliament with 47 per cent of the seats going to the Muslim Brotherhood and around 20 per cent more going to Salafists. However, many Egyptians have been disappointed in the Brotherhood’s performance so far, accusing them of ignoring the political and economic challenges facing the country and latching on to issues that are untimely and frivolous.

“They spend their time discussing issues such as female circumcision and reducing the age of marriage,” says Abdel Fattah. “This has led their popularity to wane in the street and will probably affect Morsi’s chances.”

However, leading Brotherhood figure Hamdy Hassan and former MP stressed that the people’s low perception of parliament is a result of a media smear campaign.

“The media is not being objective or ethical,” said Hamdy. “We saw an example of that with the ridiculous reports that the Islamists are discussing a law that would allow men to have sex with their wives six hours after their death.”

Indeed, the “farewell sex law” story went viral and was picked up by national and international media. Even UK mid-market publication The Daily Mail ran a piece about it. It was later proven to be a fabrication.

“It was disgusting and repulsive and a continuation of a campaign to make the Brotherhood and Islamists look bad,” Hamdy said.

Hamdy also waves away accusations that the parliament did not achieve much since it began work in February.

“We got compensation for the families of martyrs that was much more than what the government suggested. We created a fact-finding committee to investigate the recent flare-up of violence. We got permanent contracts for 600,000 temporary workers,” says Hamdy. “However, all of this, of course, was ignored by a scheming media that is still linked to the old regime.”

Another issue that may hinder Morsi’s electoral run is the fact that rival Aboul-Fotouh has garnered the coveted vote of many Salafists with the influential El-Nour Party and Dawa El-Salafeya both announcing officially they will back him.

However, some Salafist parties, such as the El-Asala Party, have decided to support Morsi. He has also begun announcing publicly that he will apply Sharia law when he comes to power, a move that was seen by many as an attempt to pander to the Salafists and gain their sympathy and vote.

Morsi has also armed himself with key Salafist figures, such as Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Maksoud and Sheikh Fawzy Said, who now accompany him on his tour and sometimes even hold independent press conferences to garner support for him.

However, despite that, experts believe that the presence of three Islamist candidates, Aboul Fotouh, Mohamed Selim El-Awa and Morsi, will split the vote, especially in the first round of the elections.

“There is a lot of division among the Salafists and among the Brotherhood youth themselves who may prefer Aboul-Fotouh,” says Abdel Fattah.

However, one factor in his favour is that he has the mighty and organised Brotherhood behind him. The group is by far the most powerful political force in Egypt after the revolution and has a 80-year history behind them.

“They have amazing organisational skills. They know how to mobilise crowds and convince them to vote,” says Abdel Fattah.

Political analyst Diaa Rashwan agrees. “[Morsi's] chances are much higher than the other candidates because he has the Brotherhood machine behind him,” explains Rashwan. “We have 55,000 polling stations and they need help getting people to the stations among other things. The Brotherhood has the logistics to deal with this. In fact, Morsi is the only candidate who has that advantage and it gives him an edge over the others."

Rashwan also points out that to this point about 25 per cent of Egyptian voters have still not decided on which candidate to vote for, and the Muslim Brotherhood will do its utmost to win these votes.

Add to that, says Abdel Fattah, that the Brotherhood has the money needed to spend on an expensive presidential campaign, which is produced by the multitude of businessmen in the group, including El-Shater who is a multi-millionaire.

“It’s obvious that a lot of money was poured into this intensive campaign,” says Abdel Fattah.

Indeed, the Brotherhood did not spare expenses or efforts for Morsi’s gigantic campaign. Abdel Aty says that most of the registered 300,000 members of the FJP — as well as the unregistered members — have been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week on the campaign.
Additionally, Abdel Aty points out, Morsi has also been holding private talks with different factions of society, including businessmen at the US and Canadian chambers of commerce, Islamic preachers and scholars, villagers, Nubians, workers and tribal leaders to win their votes.

And as Morsi’s campaign continues its frenzied run, Brotherhood members remain confident that Morsi has more chance to win than any other candidate.

“What makes Morsi unique is that we handpicked him for this role,” says Hassan. “This is different from the other candidates, like El-Awa and Aboul-Fotouh, who are forcing themselves on the people.”

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