Since 2003, I have travelled to the US at the beginning of Autumn to teach, research, lecture and participate in some seminars in Boston, New York, Washington and sometimes Chicago. In these scholarly circles, a researcher not only relays information but also learns, because he is able to take a closer look at the US which is – after all – the world’s superpower. When a society’s GDP is $15 trillion, it is an entirely different world.
I move in the realm of academia and knowledge not only in the US but also around the world. One of the virtues of the January revolution is that it restored interest in Egypt after it had only been relevant depending on its relations with Israel. Today, there are other issues and new phenomenon of interest including Tahrir Square and its implications, democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sheer coincidence had me travel to the US after both the Republican and Democratic party conventions, and at the height of the electoral battle between President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney. I don’t know why in my head I’ve made a connection between Obama and President Mohamed Morsi.
Until recently, it would have been impossible for both to even imagine they would become president. Thus, when Obama reached the White House it was a historic moment by all standards, and the US reacted emotionally to a black man with Muslim and African roots becoming president.
I still remember reading former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s memoir In My Time. He was on the far right of the Republican Party when he wrote it, riding out of Washington after the Republican defeat and Obama's victory. This was because the US had overcome its negative feelings about African-Americans and erased a stain on its history.
In Egypt, no one dismissed Morsi because of race or colour, but because the Brotherhood had historically always been politically scorned, languishing inside or outside prisons under the monarchy or the republic, during both liberal or military rule. To some extent, the rise of the Brotherhood seemed to pose a threat to the modern state and an obstacle to international acceptance.
I honestly don’t know if there would have been a great difference in the outcome if the Brotherhood presidential candidate was Khairat El-Shater or Essam El-Erian or even Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. However, I believe Morsi’s personality bridged the slim difference between him and Ahmed Shafiq. He was kind and clear; gentle but firm. This was enough not only to make him the first civilian president of the republic, from the Brotherhood, without the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), but at the same time he was willing to sit with writers and artists to discuss Egypt’s soft power.
There is, of course, a big difference between Obama and Morsi: they come from entirely different backgrounds. But after four years of Obama in office, we begin four years of Morsi rule.
The former was no stranger to the society that elected him except for his colour and roots. He was a member of the Senate and a rising star in the Democratic Party who was able to build the biggest election machine in the US’s history. His and his wife’s elegance, the political speeches – which will be studied for their eloquence and delivery – all made him part of the US that Americans are familiar with, albeit in a different colour and unusual context.
And when there is a different version, you either hate it or love it; and Obama was the second.
Morsi had no colour or race issues. As for looks and delivery, he is no different from a university professor from Zaqaziq. He does, however, have other advantages that are not common in Zaqaziq University or even Cairo University, which include the spontaneous ability to speak in simple and correct Arabic. Despite sounding too traditional when she speaks of "my family and my clan," he says it with a spontaneity that makes it palatable and pleasant because the audience feels like they are one family.
What is surprising about Morsi is that in a short period of time he succeeded in taming Egypt’s power institutions, including the military, but without restraining any of them as expected during revolution. The institutions relevant to justifying, colouring, softening or highlighting oppression as democracy in the eyes of the outside world such as the National Council for Human Rights, the Supreme Women’s Council, the Supreme Press Council, specialised councils and others, remained the same as if the revolution never was, or no Spring had swept through.
To some extent state institutions did not change and their goals seem to remain the same; although the figures have changed, their statements are no different than those of the previous era. After a new reputation on the world stage, the people are now just waiting for grants, aid and loans from the IMF or Qatar or Saudi Arabia. But isn’t this exactly what the previous regime did and achieved a 5.4 per cent growth before the revolution?
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil stated that Egypt needs private sector investments worth LE170 billion and LE100 billion in public sector investments in order to achieve a growth rate of between 4 and 5 per cent.
Obama succeeded in leading the US economy out of crisis, but failed to restore the US to what it was, and for this he will be held accountable. Morsi needs to lead Egypt out of where it was and start it on a new path, and for that he will be held accountable.