Next Goal For Egypt's Islamists Is The Presidency

May 22, 2012
Originally published on May 22, 2012 6:28 am

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party was the big winner in Egypt's parliamentary elections, and now the group has its sights set on the presidential election, with voting set for Wednesday and Thursday.

The Brotherhood had initially said it wasn't going to field a candidate for president. But what is arguably Egypt's most powerful and social organization changed its mind at the last minute.

The group's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, is one of 12 in a crowded field, and polls show him trailing the man who appears to be the favorite, Amr Moussa, who was a prominent figure during former President Hosni Mubarak's rule.

At a recent rally at Cairo University, Morsi appealed directly to his Islamist supporters.

"The Quran is our constitution," he told the crowd, "the prophet is our leader, and religious struggle is our way."

Not As Popular As Party

Morsi, an engineer by training, is actually the backup candidate. The first pick, Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified for having a prison record, even though the ruling military council granted him a full pardon.

Morsi pledges to stay true to Shater's platform: a plan to reform state institutions and more deeply incorporate Islamic law, or Shariah, into Egyptian law while protecting the rights of the Christian minority.

Morsi has said that "the law of God is the only guarantee to achieve dignity for all, both Muslims and Christians in Egypt."

Morsi is depending on the broad support of the Muslim Brotherhood to propel him to victory. According to a recent Pew survey, about 70 percent of Egyptians view the group favorably. In polls, however, Morsi doesn't enjoy the same popularity.

Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at Egypt's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, which put out a poll showing Morsi in fourth place, gives two reasons why the Brotherhood's candidate is struggling.

"First of all, he doesn't have charismatic character, which can convince many Egyptians outside the Brotherhood," Anani says. "Second thing, there is a sense among Egyptians that the Brotherhood seeks to dominate all the political institutions."

A Well-Funded Campaign

Morsi's campaign faltered when a major party in the conservative Salafist movement decided to back a former Brotherhood member, Abdel Moneim Abol-Fotouh, who is also running for the presidency.

Nevertheless, Morsi's staff is feeling confident. Ahmed Dief works on the campaign's steering committee, and dismisses the polls as biased. He says what Morsi might lack in charisma, he makes up for in campaign infrastructure.

"Dr. Morsi is saying that, 'I'm a person coming from an institution that has been working on a grass-roots level for a long time. It has its professional institutions, and they are backing me up.' And I think this is definitely a core competence that no other candidate has at this time," Dief says.

The vast resources of the Brotherhood are now at Morsi's disposal, allowing slick TV ads, huge banners hung across streets, and campaign posters plastered on balconies and cars. The Brotherhood even has its own satellite TV channel that airs Morsi's campaign rallies in their entirety

Analyst Khalil al-Anani says Morsi's commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood agenda might actually be a problem for him.

"That's one of the main weaknesses of him, that many people don't believe that Morsi can act away from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood," he says.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So MORNING EDITION is preparing for a series of reports in the coming weeks from North Africa, where whole countries are writing new rules for themselves after the Arab uprisings. One of those countries is Egypt, where voters choose a president this week. It's different from other Egyptian elections because the winner is unknown. At least three of the many candidates have a shot to win or make a two person runoff.

And one of them is Mohammed Morsi. He is the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the country's most powerful political and social organization. That Islamist group's leaders said they would not field a candidate but then changed their minds.

Kimberly Adams reports from Cairo.

KIMBERLY ADAMS, BYLINE: Mohammed Morsi's campaign for the presidency is in full swing.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CHANTING CROWD)

ADAMS: At this rally in the southern city of Aswan, throngs of supporters chant: God willing, Morsi will win.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CHANTING CROWD)

ADAMS: And at another rally at Cairo University, Morsi seems to know just what to say to appeal to his supporters.

MOHAMMED MORSI: (Through Translator) Quran is our constitution, the prophet is our leader, and religious struggle is our way.

ADAMS: Morsi, an engineer by training, is actually the backup candidate. The Brotherhood's first pick, Kharait el-Shater, was disqualified for having a prison record, even though the ruling military council granted him a full pardon.

Morsi pledges to stay true to Shater's platform, a plan to reform state institutions and more deeply incorporate Islamic law, or Sharia, into Egyptian law while protecting the rights of the Christian minority.

MORSI: (Through Translator) The law of God is the only guarantee to achieve dignity for all, both Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

ADAMS: Morsi is depending on the broad support of the Muslim Brotherhood to propel him to victory. According to a recent Pew survey, about 70 percent of Egyptians view the group favorably. But according to some polls, Morsi doesn't enjoy the same popularity.

Khalil Al-Anani is a senior fellow at Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, which put out a poll showing Morsi in fourth place. He gives two reasons why the Brotherhood's candidate is struggling.

KHALIL AL-ANANI: First of all, he doesn't have charismatic character which can convince many Egyptians outside the Brotherhood to vote for him. Second thing, there is a sense, among Egyptians, that the Brotherhood seeks to dominate all political institutions.

ADAMS: Morsi's campaign faltered when a major party in the conservative Salafist movement decided to back former Brotherhood member, Abdel Moneim Abol-Fotouh, for the presidency.

Nevertheless, Morsi's staff is feeling confident. Ahmed Dief works on the campaign's steering committee, and dismisses the polls as biased. He says what Morsi might lack in charisma, he makes up for in campaign infrastructure.

AHMED DIEF: Dr. Morsi's saying that I'm a person coming from an institution that has been working on a grassroots level for a long time, has its professional institutions and they are backing me up. And I think this is a core competence that no other candidate has at this time.

ADAMS: The vast resources of the Brotherhood are now at Morsi's disposal. Slick TV ads, huge banners hung across streets, campaign posters plastered on balconies and cars. The Brotherhood even has its own satellite TV channel that airs Morsi's campaign rallies in their entirety.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CHANTING CROWD)

ADAMS: But analyst Khalil Al-Anani says Morsi's commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood agenda might be a problem for him.

AL-ANANI: That's one of the main weaknesses for him, that many people don't believe he can act away from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

ADAMS: Whether the popularity of the Brotherhood is enough to propel Morsi to the presidency will only be known when Egyptians cast their ballots this week.

For NPR News, I'm Kimberly Adams in Cairo.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.