In an unprecedented reversal of fortunes, the son of a peasant farmer from the Nile Delta, an Islamist jailed several times by Hosni Mubarak, has succeeded him as president of the largest Arab nation in a victory at the ballot box – thus inaugurating Egypt’s Second Republic.
U.S.-trained engineer Mohamed Morsi’s victory breaks a tradition of domination by men from the armed forces, which have provided every Egyptian leader since 1952, and instead installs the Muslim Brotherhood – a group that drew on eighty-four years of grassroots activism to propel Morsi into the presidency. That Egypt will evolve into something resembling today’s Turkey is hardly guaranteed. To do so, the Brotherhood must give up its longtime dream of imposing shari’a and instead strike a moderate course. Protecting the rights of women and religious minorities in the new state will require a constant struggle.
The Muslim Brotherhood are shrewd pragmatists and fully aware that Egypt has enough domestic problems of its own. Their main effort will be directed at rehabilitating the country’s devastated economy. It is unlikely, then, that there will be any conspicuous change in Egypt’s foreign relations and especially vis-à-vis the U.S. for some time to come, unless compelled by some unforeseen conflict. Hamas in Gaza – an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – has high hopes, but it will soon be disappointed. However, another full-scale Israeli military action against Hamas in Gaza is not likely to remain unanswered by the Egyptian regime. For now, Egypt needs to reestablish security in the Sinai Peninsula and throughout the country, where Islamist groups have set up cells aiming to topple the government.
In light of the measures by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] to curtail his powers, Morsi may have little choice but to compromise with the army. He could, however, choose a course of confrontation with SCAF, hoping SCAF will ultimately yield and accept the new reality. A first sign of this attitude could be Morsi’s decree issued on July 8 to reconvene the dissolved National Assembly.