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Islamist Morsi's campaign strategy: football and sheikhs

Mohamed Morsi ends a frantic campaign, during which he has risen from single digit support to race leader, with the help of football stars and sheikhs

Yasmine Fathi , Sunday 20 May 2012
Nahdawy Ultras
El Nahdawy Ultras chanting for Mohamed Morsi (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi closed his campaign with a speech in front of thousands of supporters at Cairo's Abdeen Square Sunday night, after a whirlwind tour of Egypt.

There was intense pressure on Morsi’s campaign due to his late entrance into the race following the withdrawal of the Brotherhood's first choice candidate, Khairat El-Shater, in a move that prompted sneers and accusations that Morsi was a "spare tire" and a "substitute" candidate.

However, with the Brotherhood's political machine behind him, Morsi quickly gained momentum. He has visited almost every part of Egypt, sometimes touring two governorates in a day, promoting his candidacy and the group's Nahda (Renaissance) Project.

His supporters are proud that he is the only candidate to have visited Port Said, the gloomy city where Egypt’s worst football disaster took place in February.

“The other candidates have to do everything themselves, but Morsi has an entire organisation behind him to help him put on these events,” said Mariam Mohamed, 23, who works on the Morsi campaign and comes from a long line of Brotherhood members.

“Actually most of our volunteers are youth,” notes Yasser Ahmed, a Brotherhood organiser.

There are about 300,000 members of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – the Brotherhood's political wing – working on the Morsi campaign and Cairo alone has 80 Brotherhood offices and at least 25,000 volunteers.

Morsi’s speech on Sunday night, which was broadcast live in 24 governorates and 3,000 villages across Egypt, was his last before a two-day media gag is enforced prior to the voting day on Wednesday. As usual, thousands of supporters began filtering into the arena hours before Morsi was expected to arrive. Campaign songs and anshad (songs without music) entertained the restless crowd.

During Morsi's campaign it has been common to see entertainment such as Nubian dancers, chanting by Ultras Nahdawy and fireworks when Morsi mounts the stage.

Hours before his rallies begin, Brotherhood youth rush in the hot sun to prepare the arenas for Morsi’s arrival. Like bees, they work, organised and determined, wearing white shirts with Morsi’s picture on them, carrying chairs into the arena and seating early arrivals.

This is just one of the many campaign events since Morsi entered the race. Indeed, for weeks Morsi’s supporters have done everything possible to generate media exposure for him. They often formed human chains, miles long, to welcome him in various governorates. Last week they created what they claimed was the longest human chain in the world: from Aswan to Alexandria.

They also held campaign events in suburbs, during which they distributed Morsi-themed products, including his CV and small booklets about the Nahda Project. Other Morsi merchandise, including caps, mugs and t-shirts adorned with Morsi’s image, were offered for sale.

Many Morsi supporters are confident he will become Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president. Already, they are calling him President Morsi, and at different campaign events, sellers urge people to buy the president’s campaign button with Morsi’s image on them.

Nasser Othman, an FJP parliamentarian, said Morsi’s strength was his six-point Nahda Project.

“The Brotherhood used 1000 scholars to help form his programme, which makes it practical and easy to apply,” Othman told Ahram Online.

Othman also heaped praise on Morsi himself: “Morsi has amazing administrative skills. He is a man who only sleeps four hours a night, has amazing stamina and is always worried about the nation's problems.”

Indeed, Othman said recent polls, which put Morsi behind other candidates, such as Amr Moussa, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Ahmed Shafiq, were unrepresentative.

“The only real poll is the expatriate vote in which Morsi got 36 per cent, which is much more than Abul-Fotouh, who got 23 per cent, and Hamdeen Sabbahi, who got 13 per cent,” Othman claimed.

Abdel-Rahman Arab, a 21-year-old engineering student and member of the group, said Morsi offers a moderate form of Islam, which makes him unique.

“The Nahda Project will save Egypt because the Brotherhood are the only ones who understand what moderate Islam is,” Arab said.

He added that Morsi was a strong leader, which is exactly what Egypt needs now.

“Morsi was responsible for the Brotherhood’s electoral campaign during the parliamentary elections in which they won 46 per cent of the seats,” Arab asserted. “This demonstrated his strong organisational skills.”

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, 20, another volunteer working on the Morsi campaign, said he was attracted to Morsi by his promise to apply sharia (Islamic law).

“If it wasn’t for the Brotherhood Islam would have been lost,” Abdel-Rahman said. “We want to revive it again, but like Imam Hassan El-Banna said, we have to do it with love.”

His cousin, Tayseer Osama, 19, had also been working hard on Morsi’s campaign and was pained by criticism of his favoured candidate.

“They can’t find anything bad to say about him, so they invent stuff,” Osama fumed. “Anyway the whole spare tire thing is actually positive. It shows that the Brotherhood has a plan A, B and C, which proves we don’t have big egos and that all we want is for the Nahda Project to be applied and it doesn’t matter who does it.”

The group's sisters, or Akhwat, have also been working hard to sell Morsi to the public.

Wafaa Hamed, 29, said that from talking to people in the streets over the past few weeks, there are strong indicators that Morsi will win.

“At first people were annoyed, thinking the Brotherhood wanted to monopolise everything in the country, including the parliament and the presidency,” said Hamed. “But now 80 per cent understand that Morsi has a message.”

Morsi is well aware that nothing gets an Egyptian's heart going like religion and football, so handpicked representatives of both were selected to give his campaign some extra oomph. Among them are Salafist Sheikh Mohamed Abdel-Maksoud, Islamic scholar Safwat Hegazi and footballers Rabie Yassin and Motassem Salem. Additionally, 500 Al-Azhar sheikhs and scholars attended the final event.

Islam is central to Morsi’s campaign and he often leads prayers at his public rallies. Sheikh Abdel-Maksoud, who has taken to accompanying Morsi wherever he goes, has said he chose Morsi so he will have a clear conscience on judgment day.

“I chose Morsi because when I am asked on judgment day, I will tell God that I found Morsi to be a good man,” Abdel-Maksoud said during the campaign. “I will tell God that I chose Morsi because he declared openly that he will apply sharia.”

Morsi also has the backing of the devout and much loved footballer, Mohamed Abu Treika, who appeared on a screen with a message of support for Morsi.

“The country needs Islam and people who understand Islam,” Abu Treika told the cheering crowd.

It has been a hectic few weeks for the Brotherhood, especially the youth who have been working night and day on Morsi’s campaign. However, as Egypt enters the two-day campaigning ban before Wednesday and Thursday's election, many are optimistic that their candidate will be Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president.

“I am confident that he will win in the first round,” Osama said. “Next Saturday Morsi will be in the presidential palace.”

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© 2010 Ahram Online.