Will Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi clinch Egypt's presidency?

Sarah El-Rashidi, Tuesday 12 Jun 2012

Experts assess Muslim Brotherhood candidate's electoral prospects only days before Egypt's contentious Morsi-Shafiq presidential showdown

Mohamed Morsi
The Muslim Brotherhood's Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi (Photo: Reuters)

With Egypt's presidential runoff around the corner, Cairo's flashpoint Tahrir Square has remained the scene of mass demonstrations since last week's contentious Mubarak trial verdicts.

Mubarak and former interior minister Habib El-Adly were sentenced to life in prison for participating in the killing of protesters during last year's Tahrir Square uprising. Six police chiefs, meanwhile, were acquitted of the same charges.

In a second ruling, Mubarak, his two sons and runaway Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem were all exonerated of corruption allegations. Many believe the verdict, which sparked national outrage, will affect people's voting tendencies.

The Brotherhood, criticised for only sporadically attending demonstrations in Tahrir Square, are, according to some experts, exploiting the unrest in the street to their electoral advantage. 

"Since the acquittal of these high-profile cases, the Brotherhood have been trying to exploit and enflame the situation for their electoral gain, illustrated by the chaos in Tahrir, which in turn is causing problems for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)," explained former army general and military expert Mohamed Khalaf.

This idea was also shared by prominent political analyst and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

"Although the Brotherhood are now in Tahrir, they initially came late to the revolution and were the first to leave on the 11 February. From then on, they have been very selective, choosing only to participate when it benefits them," Ibrahim said.   

This notion is strongly refuted by the Brotherhood, which identifies itself as part of the revolution.

The Islamist group expresses confidence that its chances of winning the upcoming election are high.

"We understand we were not the people’s first choice, since Morsi only got 25 per cent of Egyptians' votes. But given the two choices, regardless of ideological differences, patriotism is key," stated Brotherhood spokesman Yehiya Hamed.

The higher expatriate turnout in the second round of elections is, according to the Brotherhood spokesman, another positive indication of Morsi’s expected triumph.

"As illustrated by voting patterns abroad, a big segment who didn’t vote in the first round will now vote against Shafiq, who represents the old regime," claimed Khaled El-Qazzaz, Morsi’s campaign chief and coordinator of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Moreover, the fact that the vote is not split in the second round between a secular revolutionary and an Islamist revolutionary is another strongpoint for Morsi, suggests El-Qazzaz.

Some analysts believe the Brotherhood stands a good chance on the premise that that it retains the ultra-conservative Salafist vote and adopts an inclusive approach.

"If Morsi… agrees on a prime minister and vice-president from outside the Brotherhood and provides constitutional guarantees, he will have a better chance," said political analyst Omar Ashour, political science professor at the UK's Exeter University and visiting scholar at the Brookings Doha Centre.

"Morsi has made proposals to offer the vice presidential position to former presidential candidates Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabbahi, and the prime minister post to Mohamed ElBaradei," added Ashour.

However, such offers remain tentative due to the ongoing debate over each position's functional authority. Sabbahi, according to Ashour, declined the proposal, demanding Morsi’s withdrawal in order to draw up a 'presidential council' mandated with running the country until a constitution is drawn up.

Furthermore, fears remain regarding the Islamist candidate – especially regarding women’s rights – that are likely to affect his electoral success.

At a recent televised press conference, Morsi attempted to secure the female vote by talking about women’s pivotal role in society, saying that "legally, women enjoy the same rights as men in Egypt."

Many Egyptian women, however, remain wary, wanting further reassurances from Morsi concerning controversial topics such as underage marriage, khula (the right of the wife to request divorce) and female genital mutilation.

"Laws protecting women are already in place. I am not going to make any modifications in terms of these issues," Morsi insisted. Aware of his detractors' criticisms, he added: "My convictions concerning women’s rights are not related to the presidential elections." 

Additional concerns include the Brotherhood's alleged desire to establish an Islamic caliphate with a capital in Jerusalem, which, for many patriotic Egyptians, is a determining factor when voting. The Brotherhood denies the allegations.

"This is a misquotation of the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide [Mohamed Badie]. We hope to establish an Islamic union with coalitions between specified circles of influence including Egypt, the Middle East and Africa, and the Muslim world," stated El-Qazzaz.

Other observers believe that, even if Morsi wins, his success will be short-lived due to internal divisions within the Brotherhood's hierarchy.

"The Murshid (supreme guide), not Morsi, will be the big boss who will dominate everything in the country; this will create both internal and external friction," said military expert Khalaf.

Although the Brotherhood admits to internal differences, it is quick to express its commitment to democracy.

"The Brotherhood is not a utopia; there are, of course, disagreements, but that’s the beauty of any democracy. The [Brotherhood] structure incorporates a democratic voting system; even the group's leader has only one vote," Hamed explained.

With elections only days away, Egyptians will choose between a more secular Egypt under Shafiq and a more religiously-minded one under the Brotherhood's Morsi. Many experts believe Egyptians will be more inclined to select a familiar secular structure.

"I think Shafiq will win this election. Egyptians don't like rules; they want a civil state," said Khalaf. 

Islamist-leaning voters, however, along with many of their liberal counterparts, view Shafiq as a 'remnant' of the autocratic Mubarak regime.

"Many Islamists associate Shafiq with the State Security apparatus that brutally tortured them for years under Mubarak, and are, therefore, campaigning with considerable fortitude," emphasised Ashour.

Ultimately, however, despite all the hullaballoo surrounding the upcoming presidential showdown, Khalaf concluded: "The election will go through, regardless of the disturbances. This is the last lap."

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