Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mohamed Morsi

Khaled Desouki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Updated: Sept. 26, 2012

In late June 2012, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist group, was declared the winner of the country’s first competitive presidential elections, handing his group a symbolic triumph and a new weapon in its struggle for power with the country’s ruling military council. 
Mr. Morsi is the first Islamist elected to be head of an Arab state. After he was elected president as the candidate of the Freedom and Justice Party, sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi resigned from the Brotherhood and announced that he would form a government in which all major factions in Egyptian politics would be represented.
Since taking office, he has worked to chip away at the power of the military, which before the election had dissolved Parliament and moved to diminish the powers of the presidency when he had emerged as the frontrunner. In early July, Mr. Morsi ordered that Parliament reconvene, in a direct challenge to the military and to the courts, which the next day both reaffirmed their actions in dissolving the body. But the authorities made no move to prevent the legislators from gathering for a brief session on July 10.
In August, Mr. Morsi forced the retirement of his powerful defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi; the army chief of staff, Sami Anan; and several senior generals. The stunning purge seemed for the moment to reclaim for civilian leaders much of the political power the Egyptian military had seized since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Morsi has also sought to reclaim Egypt’s traditional role as a diplomatic leader in the region. In August, he began reaching out to Iran and other regional powers, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey in an initiative to halt the escalating violence in Syria. Mr. Morsi’s outreach to Iran and other moves, like choosing China for his first overseas trip, raised concerns in the Obama administration, even as President Obama announced the forgiveness of $1 billion in Egyptian debt.

Film Incites Violence; U.S. Embassy Stormed
In September, outrage in the Egyptian media over an American-made anti-Islamic film boiled over when an angry crowd breached the fortified walls of the American Embassy in Cairo. While the attack did not lead to American deaths, as in Libya, the response of Mr. Morsi and his government troubled American officials.
For Mr. Morsi, the dilemma quickly became an early test of the Brotherhood’s ability to balance domestic political pressures, international commitments and its conservative religious mandate now that it is also effectively governing in a new democracy.
Mr. Morsi initially issued only a mild rebuke of the rioters — and on Facebook — while the Brotherhood, called for more protests. And though the Egyptian police coordinated with American officials, Mr. Morsi waited 24 hours before issuing his statement against the militants who stormed the embassy.
But even as demonstrations continued, the official tone changed abruptly after a blunt phone call to Mr. Morsi from President Obama, who warned that relations would be jeopardized if Egyptian authorities failed to protect American diplomats and stand more firmly against anti-American attacks.
The next day, Mr. Morsi appeared on television, telling Egyptians it was their “religious duty to protect our guests and those who come to us from outside our nation,” including their embassies, and businesses. He offered condolences for the American ambassador killed in Libya, in a parallel protest over the same video, and he vowed to bring charges against those who had scaled the embassy walls in Cairo. At the same time, he was also careful to stress the legitimacy of the protesters’ grievances. “We all reject any trespassing or offense to our Prophet Muhammad,” Mr. Morsi said.

First Official Visit to the U.S.
In late September, Mr. Morsi embarked on his first official visit to the United States to attend a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York beginning Sept. 24. The day before he left, in an interview with The New York Times, he said the United States needed to change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values and helping build a Palestinian state, if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger. He also said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt.
He also dismissed criticism from the White House that he did not move fast enough to condemn protesters who climbed over the United States Embassy wall and burned the American flag in anger over a video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.
“We took our time” in responding to avoid an explosive backlash, he said, but then dealt “decisively” with the small, violent element among the demonstrators.
His visit comes at a delicate moment. He faces political pressure at home to prove his independence, but demands from the West for reassurance that Egypt under Islamist rule will remain a stable partner.
He suggested that Egypt would not be hostile to the West, but would not be as compliant as Mr. Mubarak, either.
“Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” he said, by backing dictatorial governments over popular opposition and supporting Israel over the Palestinians.
He initially sought to meet with President Obama at the White House during his visit, but he received a cool reception, aides to both presidents said. Mindful of the complicated election-year politics of a visit with Egypt’s Islamist leader, Mr. Morsi dropped his request.
In his speech to world leaders at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Mr. Morsi condemned the violence that stemmed from from the video, “Innocence of Muslims.” However, he flatly rejected Mr. Obama’s broad defense of free speech at the United Nations a day earlier, saying, “Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed.”

Background: In El-Shater’s Shadow
Mr. Morsi was widely regarded as the least charismatic of the leading candidates. He was derided as a mere “spare tire” who was pulled in after the Brotherhood’s first choice, Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified because of a past conviction at a Mubarak-era political trial. 
Mr. Morsi promised to execute Mr. Shater’s plans and platform. His own face barely appeared in his two television commercials, and he did not participate in the single televised debate.
But his victory came at a political price. To fend off the Islamist-versus-Islamist challenge, Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood dropped some of their efforts to cultivate a moderate image and turned their campaign appeals sharply to the right.
After distancing itself from the ultraconservative Salafis, Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood embraced them on the campaign trail, eagerly standing with them. He led chants for the implementation of Islamic law, and portrayed his political program as a distillation of Islam itself. Mr. Morsi has argued for barring women and non-Muslims from Egypt’s presidency on the basis of Islamic law, or Shariah.
Some of these shifts may complicate the group’s efforts to project a more moderate, centrist image.

Campaigning as a Conservative Islamist
Mr. Morsi’s conservative record and early campaign statements sharpened the contrast between competing Islamist visions. The Muslim Brotherhood, the 84-year-old religious revival group known here for its preaching and charity as well as for its moderate Islamist politics, took a much softer approach in the official platform it released in 2011. It dropped the “Islam is the solution” slogan, omitted controversial proposals about a religious council or a Muslim president and promised to respect the Camp David accords with Israel. Its parliamentary leaders distanced themselves from the ultraconservative Salafis.
By contrast, Mr. Morsi campaigned explicitly both as a more conservative Islamist and as a loyal executor of Mr. Shater’s plans. He campaigned with Mr. Shater under a banner with both their faces, fueling critics’ charges that he would be a mere servant of Mr. Shater and the Brotherhood’s executive board.
But Mr. Morsi also courted the Salafis, whose popular candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, was also disqualified.
Although Mr. Morsi received a Ph.D. in engineering at the University of Southern California in 1982, he spent the past decade as a public spokesman for the Brotherhood’s political wing, where he left a far more extensive and controversial record than Mr. Shater did. In 2011, for example, Mr. Morsi led a boycott of a major Egyptian cellphone company because its founder, Naguib Sawiris, a Coptic Christian, had circulated on Twitter a cartoon of Mickey Mouse in a long beard with Minnie in a full-face veil — a joke Mr. Morsi said insulted Islam.

Standing With Protesters After Mubarak’s Sentencing 
On June 2, 2012, Mr. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison as an accomplice in the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the January 2011 protests that ended his nearly 30-year rule. The Egyptian judge who handed down the decision acquitted half-a-dozen officials lower in the chain of command who had more direct responsibility. He also dismissed corruption charges against Mr. Mubarak and his sons on the ground that a statute of limitations had lapsed.
In the wake of the verdict, thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Cairo and other cities to vent their anger at the decision. The country’s military-led government said that it would appeal the weak verdicts that intensified the polarization that had been gripping Egypt two weeks before the runoff to decide Egypt’s first competitive presidential race.
Mr. Morsi stood with the protesters and sought to turn the runoff election into a retrial for the Mubarak government, pledging to press new charges against Mr. Mubarak if he was elected.
But Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Morsi’s opponent, lashed out in a sweeping attack on the Brotherhood, charging that the group was out for “revenge” against the former Mubarak government, that it used to collaborate with that government in secret deals, and that it represented “chaos.”

In June 2012, after an election that international monitors called credible, Mr. Morsi was declared the winner of the race by the Brotherhood and a number of Egyptian news organizations. But Mr. Morsi’s opponent, Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general who briefly served as prime minister under Mr. Mubarak, also declared victory. According to election officials, Mr. Morsi won 51.7 percent of the runoff vote on June 16 and 17; his opponent, the former general Ahmed Shafik, won 48.3 percent.
The election was seen as a repeat of the conflict that shaped Egypt’s politics for a generation, between the military establishment of Mr. Mubarak and the Brotherhood, which although banned was the regime’s only effective opposition.
Mr. Morsi’s candidacy, and the Brotherhood, sustained two blows from the nation’s highest court days before the final vote. The court invalidated a law passed in May by the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament that barred top Mubarak officials like Mr. Shafik from seeking the presidency. And the court ordered Parliament dissolved and new elections held, saying that one-third of its members had been illegally elected.
Hours before Mr. Morsi claimed victory, Egypt’s military council issued an interim constitution granting itself broad power over the future government, all but eliminating the president’s authority in an apparent effort to guard against just such a victory.
On June 30, Mr. Morsi was formally sworn in as the first democratically elected president of Egypt. Mr. Morsi, against his wishes, took the oath before a court of Mubarak-appointed judges; he had vowed to swear in before the democratically elected and Islamist-led Parliament, but the generals dissolved it on the eve of his election under the pretext of a ruling from the very same court.
On July 8, Mr. Morsi reversed that decision, ordering the return of the dissolved Islamist-led Parliament until a new one could be elected. A parliamentary election is expected to be held within 60 days after a new constitution is approved by the nation.

Islamists Tread Lightly, But Skeptics Squirm
On the surface, Mr. Morsi seems to have gone out of his way to allay fears that Islamists would radically change Egyptian society. He promptly fulfilled a campaign promise to resign from the Brotherhood and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, and chose a prime minister, Hesham Kandil, who is a religious Muslim but known as a technocrat rather than a hard-liner
Mr. Morsi met early with the acting Coptic pope, Anba Bakhomious, though during the election campaign he had said he did not believe a Christian or a woman could ever be president of Egypt. He went out of his way to praise the role of the military as guarantors of Egypt’s new democracy. 
He has refrained from taking any action on hot-button social or foreign policy issues, or even discussing them. The sale and consumption of alcohol remain legal, a concern of the important tourist industry, which has been on the rocks since the revolution. No one in ruling circles is calling for the government to make wearing head scarves obligatory, ban pop music or review the peace treaty with Israel.
Even so, Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood allies have had little luck placating secular and other opponents. The Brotherhood remains reviled and feared by secular activists and many Christians.
Many secular and Christian Egyptians, even some who participated in the revolution, now look to the military as a guarantor against Islamist excess. And many express the belief that the only reason the Brotherhood has not taken any action on social issues is because it is biding its time until it is powerful enough to do so.

New Cabinet Includes Many Holdovers
In early August, Mr. Morsi swore in members of his first cabinet, marking another milestone in the country’s difficult transition even as reports of deadly violence complicated the new government’s work. 
The makeup of the cabinet, which includes longtime state employees and at least six former government ministers, has lowered expectations of a sweeping change in governance that was the promise of last year’s revolt.
The selection of five ministers from Mr. Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the exclusion of cabinet members from other major political parties seemed likely to revive complaints that the Brotherhood was seeking to dominate Egypt’s new politics. And, despite promises of an inclusive government, only two women were chosen for the cabinet — and one of them was its only Christian member.
In selecting technocrats, rather than high-profile appointees from across the political spectrum, Mr. Morsi and his prime minister, Mr. Kandil, showed a preference for cautious — and incremental — change as they face a series of mounting crises.
One appointment, though, represented a bold stroke. In naming Ahmed Mekky, a longtime activist for judicial independence, as justice minister, Mr. Morsi and his prime minister seemed to be taking on Egypt’s most powerful judges, whose reputation for politicized decisions has emerged as one of the primary challenges to Mr. Morsi’s leadership.
Two of the 35 ministers are women, and only one is a Coptic Christian, state media reported. Christians make up roughly 10 percent of the population.

Morsi’s First Crisis: An Attack in the Sinai
On Aug. 5, masked gunmen opened fire on an Egyptian Army checkpoint in the northern Sinai Peninsula, killing 16 soldiers who were preparing to break their Ramadan fast. The gunmen then seized at least one armored vehicle and headed toward Israel, apparently in an attempt to storm the border, witnesses and officials said. An Israeli military spokesman said a vehicle exploded at the border, and another was struck by the Israeli Air Force at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, on the southern tip of the Gaza Strip. It was the deadliest assault on Egyptian soldiers in recent memory.
The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said that the attack should serve as “a wake-up call” to Mr. Morsi about the growing danger in the Sinai and the border between the two nations. With the relationship between Egypt’s new Islamist leader and Israel still in its fragile infancy, the terrorist attack presented a critical opportunity — and a crucial test. Several high-ranking officials inside Israel’s government and numerous independent experts on Israel-Egypt relations said that the attack was the best evidence yet that the two countries are both threatened by lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula.
The killings of the Egyptian soldiers, which represented Mr. Morsi’s first real crisis, have aggravated the political clash between the Muslim Brotherhood, on one side, and its more secular rivals including Egypt’s powerful military leaders.
Mr. Morsi abruptly canceled plans to attend the funeral of the 16 soldiers after protesters shouting anti-Brotherhood slogans chased the country’s prime minister from an earlier prayer service.
Mr. Morsi’s vulnerability stems from his closeness with Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood that governs the Gaza Strip. Mr. Morsi had promised to ease restrictions on Gaza by opening the border crossing and allowing goods, now smuggled, to pass through the border.
After the attack, some of Mr. Morsi’s critics cast his relationship with the group as a liability. Officials said that militants based in the Sinai carried out the attack, along with Palestinians who infiltrated the country through smuggling tunnels from the Gaza Strip. Despite the accusations, the Egyptian authorities have provided no information about the identities of the attackers, though they have said that an intense manhunt is under way for them. And though attention has recently been focused on the smuggling tunnels, many analysts said Sinai itself is a more pressing source of concern as a place where militancy has taken hold after years of neglect by the government and heavy-handed treatment by the security services.
Three days after the attack, Egypt was reported to have launched its first airstrikes in decades in the restive Sinai Peninsula, deploying attack helicopters to strike at gunmen after the shootings of the Egyptian soldiers. On the same day, in a major shake-up, Mr. Morsi fired his intelligence chief and the governor of Northern Sinai. He also asked Field Marshal Tantawi to replace the commander of the military police.

Morsi Ousts Military Chief
On Aug. 12, President Morsi forced the retirement of his powerful defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi; the army chief of staff, Sami Anan; and several senior generals. The stunning purge seemed for the moment to reclaim for civilian leaders much of the political power the Egyptian military had seized since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Morsi appeared to look to the support of a junior officer corps that blamed the old guard for a litany of problems within the military and for involving the armed forces too deeply in the country’s politics. They included Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, whom Mr. Morsi named as Field Marshal Tantawi’s replacement.
Mr. Morsi also nullified a constitutional declaration, issued by the military before he was elected, that eviscerated the powers of the presidency and arrogated to the military the right to enact laws. It was not immediately clear whether he had the constitutional authority to cancel that decree.
Mr. Morsi also named a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as his vice-president. During the Mubarak era, Mr. Mekki fought for judicial independence and spoke out frequently against voting fraud.
While the leadership shuffle was proceeding, the Egyptian military pressed its campaign against the Islamists thought to have carried out the previous week’s attack in the Sinai Peninsula. At least five gunmen were killed in a village in the North Sinai, according to security officials and witnesses cited by Reuters. Strewn about the rubble were chemicals for making explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, the officials said.

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