Monday 25 June 2012

Muslim Brotherhood win Egyptian election

Robert Fisk prefers to talk about the “Arab Revival”

Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi declared president of Egypt
Egyptians celebrate while neighbours react with guarded optimism to appointment of first elected Islamist candidate

24 June, 2012

The Arab Spring entered a new chapter last night when Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared Egypt's first democratically elected president, triggering rapture in Cairo's Tahrir Square and a nervous welcome from regional leaders jittery over the advance of Islamism.

Sixteen months after the fall of his predecessor, the dictator Hosni Mubarak, official election results gave Morsi, a US-educated engineer, 51.7% of the vote against 48.3% for his rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister under Mubarak. The turnout was reported to be 51.6%.

It is the first time that Egypt has been headed by an Islamist in the modern era, and the first time that a freely elected civilian has come to power in the country.

When the final announcement came – after a dense 45-minute preamble from the election chief, Farouk Sultan – it instantly rippled through Tahrir Square, setting off fireworks, flag-waving and chants of "Allahu Akbar".

"The revolution was victorious – this feeling cannot be described," said Mahmoud Abdallah. "If Shafik had won, the past year would have been for nothing. Now we need to fight for the constitution and parliament. Political forces have united now against the anti-revolutionaries and we will win no matter how strong they are."

Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, an elderly leather goods dealer, said: "It is justice, and happiness. I want everyone to have his rights in this country. My wife is sick and her treatment is expensive. I want it to be fair and equal for all. We ask God that Morsi is able to do this, but we're all in it together."

The 61-year-old president studied and taught at university in California before returning to Egypt to enter politics, winning election as MP in 2000. He spent months in prison during the Mubarak regime before rising to become head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, in 2011, after Mubarak's fall.

He owes his rise in the Brotherhood to his allegiance to its current deputy head, Khairat al-Shater, who remains the most powerful figure in the movement. He told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that its foreign policy priority was a "strategic partnership" with the US, with the aim of gaining access to international credit markets and global legitimacy.

The much delayed announcement allayed fears that Egypt's generals, who have overseen the country's messy transition, might attempt to rig the result, but Morsi will inherit an office with powers that have been sharply curtailed last week by the military junta, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which dissolved parliament and consolidated its own grip on national security policy.

The head of Scaf, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, publicly sent his congratulations to Morsi, to whom Scaf is due to hand power at the end of the week, but it is unclear how much authority the military will allow him to wield.

At the Muslim Brotherhood campaign headquarters, officials were insistent that there had been no deals with Scaf to pave the way for a Morsi presidency.

"We negotiated with the fellowship of Tahrir, not the military," said Sameh El-Essawy. "Our issue is not with the army, but with the leaders of the army. They are not politicians."

He did admit however that there had been talks with the generals in recent days. "If the army phones you and says, 'We need to talk about Egypt,' of course you go. But talking is not the same as making a deal."

He added that the party would now attempt to heal divisions and assuage fears about them. He also stated that the Tahrir sit-in would continue until demands were met. "We are normal Egyptian people, we are not monsters. Our candidate won and we're going to Tahrir and staying there until we get our rights."

The first formal congratulations from abroad came from Hamas, whose position in Gaza is likely to be bolstered by the result. Iran also offered its congratulations, while Israel said it "appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects its outcome". Next came a more restrained note from one of Gulf's conservative monarchies, the United Arab Emirates, which said that it "welcomes the results of the presidential elections [in Egypt] and respects the choice of the brotherly Egyptian people".

But behind the formal sentiments, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Centre thinktank predicted there would be few cheers from the established rulers of the Gulf.

"They see the rise of Islamists in the region as a threat to regional security. Not only that, they fear the rise of Islamist opposition in their own countries. Islamists across the region will be emboldened after today's results, and that's precisely what the Saudis and the Emiratis don't want," Hamid wrote in an email.

In the UK, the foreign secretary, William Hague, set out early benchmarks by which the Muslim Brotherhood would be judged in the west. Hague tweeted congratulations to Morsi and the Egyptian people "on the result, and the peaceful process".

"I hope Egypt's new president will show early leadership on democratic and economic reforms, [and the] rights of all Egyptian men and women," he wrote.

Realistic and sober analysis from journalist Robert Fisk

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