An engineering professor who received extensive academic training in the United States and a reliable party-man in the Muslim Brotherhood for thirty years, Mohamed Morsi is known for combining hard-line conservative stances on social issues and political pragmatism.
Born in 1951 in the Sharqiya Governorate in the eastern Nile Delta, Morsi grew up in a rural middle-class family.
He moved to Cairo in the late 1960s to study at Cairo University, graduating in 1975 with a BA in Engineering with high honours.
Morsi performed his military service in the Egyptian army from 1975 to 1976 and was assigned to the chemical warfare unit.
He then earned a Masters Degree in metallurgical engineering from Cairo University in 1978.
Morsi has been married since 1978 and currently has four sons, a daughter and three grandchildren.
Before the revolution
Morsi received a scholarship from the University of Southern California for academic excellence in engineering in the early 1980s and earned a Masters Degree and PhD in rocket science in 1982.
Morsi worked as a professor at California State University in North Ridge in the United States between 1982 and 1985.
After the conclusion of his academic endeavours abroad, Morsi served as head of the engineering department at Zagazig University in Egypt from 1985 until 2010.
Morsi became ideologically attracted to the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-1970s, becoming an official member in 1979.
He joined the group’s religious department in 1979. In 1992, he became a member of the group’s newly-formed political department. In 1995, he became a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, the group's highest decision-making body.
He was first elected to the People's Assembly, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, in 1995 as a nominal independent for the Nahtay district of the Gharbiya governorate. He was re-elected to parliament in 2000.
He served as official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc from 2000 to 2005.
During his parliamentary tenure, Morsi was one of the most active members of the Brotherhood’s bloc in the People's Assembly. He was the author of one of parliament's most famous inquests into public officials in recent history. The enquiry specifically looked into the 2002 Cairo-Aswan train disaster, which left over 350 passengers dead.
In the first-round of voting for 2005 parliamentary elections, Morsi received the highest numbers of votes, but lost to his opponent in subsequent runoffs.
Morsi spent seven months in jail after being arrested in May 2006 – along with dozens of other Brotherhood members – for supporting a group of reformist judges who had staged demonstrations against the fraud that had accompanied the 2005 elections.
The Brotherhood’s leadership entrusted Morsi with a number of critical assignments.
After the arrest of leading Brotherhood member Khairat El-Shater by the Mubarak regime in 2005, Morsi became the group’s official spokesman.
He played a central role in the drafting of the Brotherhood’s political programme in 2007, which reserved the position of president of the republic to Muslim men only.
According to Mohamed Habib, first deputy to the group’s former supreme guide, the group appointed Morsi to act as a liaison between its leadership and the Mubarak regime’s notorious State Security apparatus from 2007 to 2011.
Morsi also represented the Brotherhood in several umbrella movements working for democratic reform.
He was a co-founder of the National Front for Change (‘Kefaya’) along with former prime minister Aziz Sedki in 2004, and also participated in the establishment of the National Assembly for Change in 2010 with reform activist Mohamed ElBaradei.
In the final months of the Mubarak regime, Morsi co-directed a Brotherhood campaign – dubbed the Political Parties Dialogue Initiative – aimed at opening dialogue with various political opposition parties and movements.
The Brotherhood initially promised opposition forces that it would boycott the 2010 parliamentary elections. However, after a number of political parties and forces announced their decision to boycott the vote, the Brotherhood reneged on its promise, deciding at the last minute to contest the elections.
Morsi was the key Brotherhood leader who took on the task of publicly defending the group’s decision to contest elections. He famously scolded opposition leaders, such as ElBaradei, who raised questions about the Brotherhood’s credibility at that point, claiming that the group had never promised to abide by anyone else’s opinion, but that it had simply wanted dialogue.
The revolution and beyond
On the morning of Egypt’s "Friday of Rage" on 28 January 2011, Morsi was arrested, along with 24 other Brotherhood leaders, and detained in Wadi Natrun Prison in the Western Desert.
He was released two days later by local residents after prison guards abandoned jails across the country.
On 30 April 2011, not long after Mubarak’s ouster, Morsi resigned from the group’s Guidance Bureau after it appointed him president of the first-ever political party to be established by the group in its 80-year history: the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
In the months that followed, Morsi forged a short-lived coalition – known as the “Democratic Alliance” – with 40 religious, Nasserist and liberal parties, all under the FJP’s leadership, to prepare for Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.
Morsi failed, however, to hold the alliance together for more than a few weeks, with most alliance members – starting with the liberal Wafd Party – quitting after accusing the Brotherhood of undemocratically dominating the effort.
Nonetheless, under Morsi’s management, the Brotherhood’s FJP survived the meltdown, achieving a landslide victory in the parliamentary contest in late 2011, winning more than 45 percent of the vote and securing a parliamentary majority through its alliance with the Salafist Nour Party.
As head of the FJP, Morsi also maintained regular dialogue with Egypt’s ruling military council, frequently meeting with its generals to exchange ideas and coordinate policy.
After the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission barred Brotherhood strongman Khairat El-Shater from standing in May presidential elections, the group’s leadership asked Morsi to resign as FJP president in order to allow him to run for president – a move that earned him the nickname of “the substitute” by the group’s critics.
* Morsi's brand of conservative Islam makes him popular with Brotherhood members and sympathisers who would have voted for conservatives such as El-Shater or Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail – both of whom were ultimately disqualified from the race. He is particularly popular with Islamist voters, who consider renegade Islamist candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh too liberal on social issues.
* The Muslim Brotherhood possesses a solid organisational apparatus that extends across the country, and will no doubt carry out extensive operations on Election Day aimed at mobilising supporters to cast ballots for Morsi.
* Morsi faces an uphill battle in the struggle to garner the Islamist vote after the influential Salafist Front and Nour Party both endorsed Abul-Fotouh’s presidential bid.
* Morsi's candidacy will no doubt be hurt by misgivings on the part of some voters about the Brotherhood, after the group broke its post-revolution promise not to field a candidate in presidential elections.
* Morsi will find it difficult to overcome the stigma associated with being a “substitute” for the much more charismatic El-Shater, and his use of El-Shater’s own “El-Nahda” political and economic project.
* He will also face a formidable anti-Brotherhood campaign by official media, due to the ongoing conflict between the group and Egypt’s ruling military council over the formation of a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution as well as questions over the right to dismiss and form cabinets.
Sarah Mourad contributed to this profile
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