24 Jun 2012

Islamist Mursi is Egypt’s new president

Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader once jailed by ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, succeeds him as president of the world’s most populous Arab nation.

Mursi supporter

Supporters of the Islamist group who had packed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to hear the delayed result of last weekend’s run-off vote erupted in celebration as the victory was announced.

The crowd burst into cheers, waving national flags and chanting “Allahu Akbar!” or God is Great, greeting the dramatic victory.

Mr Mursi won 51.7 per cent of the vote, narrowly beating former Mubarak minister and Air Force general Ahmed Shafiq.

Days of delays and widespread accusations of electoral irregularities had led to fears amongst pro-democracy activists that Egypt‘s ruling military council were seeking to manipulate the poll to put Mr Shafiq into power.

Mr Mursi will not enjoy the far-reaching powers exercised by Mubarak – those have been curtailed by the military establishment, who will remain a powerful force.

The US-trained engineer’s victory in the country’s first free presidential election breaks a tradition of domination by the armed forces, who have provided every Egyptian leader since the overthrow of the monarchy 60 years ago.

“Egyptian renaissance”

Mr Mursi has campaigned for an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation” – promising a moderate, modern Islamist agenda to steer Egypt into a new democratic era where autocracy will be replaced by transparent government that respects human rights.

The Brotherhood’s “renaissance” manifesto sketches out the group’s vision on everything from fighting inflation to a reset of relations with the United States to a more equal partnership.

The group envision deeper ties with Turkey – a Muslim state which Brotherhood leaders often cite as a model of success – but want a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. But the Brotherhood has said it will not renege on the deal with Egypt’s Jewish neighbours.

Many Egyptians, not least the Christian minority, remain suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood. Anti-Islamist sentiment, fuelled by both a hostile media and some of the group’s policies, has soared in recent weeks.

William Hague hailed an “historic moment” for Egypt tonight after Mohammed Morsi was elected president.

The foreign secretary congratulated the Muslim Brotherhood candidate on securing 51 per cent of the vote in a run-off.

And he urged the new premier to focus on national unity, reconciliation and human rights in the wake of the Arab Spring revolution that saw Mubarak deposed.

‘National unity’

“It will be important for the new government to stand for national unity and reconciliation, to build bridges across Egyptian society and to uphold human rights, including the rights of women and religious minorities, and the rule of law.

“An inclusive government with the authority to take forward reforms, and a new parliament and constitution which represent the interests of all Egyptians, will be important steps in Egypt’s transition to democratic government.

“Britain will support the Egyptian people and their leaders as they take steps to consolidate their democratic rights and institutions and to reinvigorate the Egyptian economy.”

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander added his congratulations after the long-awaited result was declared.

“All parties must now commit to working together to establish democratic institutions, agree a constitution which respects individual rights, and build good relations with neighbours in the interests of the region and the wider world,” he added.

Crowds in Tahrir Square

Divided nation

Mr Mursi’s narrow victory suggests that Egypt is a nation that is anything but united around the idea of Brotherhood rule. Mr Mursi won a little less than a quarter of the first-round vote in May.

“I will treat everyone equally and be a servant of the Egyptian people,” Mr Mursi said at his campaign headquarters in Cairo shortly after polling ended, a week before his victory was finally confirmed by the Mubarak-era electoral commission.

Elijah Zarwan, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said: “President Mursi will struggle to control the levers of state.

“He will likely face foot-dragging and perhaps outright attempts to undermine his initiatives from key institutions. Faced with such resistance, frustration may tempt him fall into the trap of attempting to throw his new weight around. This would be a mistake.

“His challenge is to lead a bitterly divided, fearful, and angry population toward a peaceful democratic outcome, without becoming a reviled scapegoat for continued military rule.”