Can the Muslim Brotherhood unite Egypt? It will be hard not to fail

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Egyptians celebrate the election of their new president Mohamed Morsi on June 24, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Article Highlights

  • Mohamed Morsi is now the nominal leader of a nation of 80 million people, the largest in the Arab world.

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  • Morsi inherits Egypt in dire straits economically: tourism is off by more than 30%, foreign direct investment is down 90%.

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  • The 50% of Egyptians who voted for Shafiq wanted a restored sense of security and protection for Egypt’s minorities.

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  • Those who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood are looking for more Islam and less of a relationship with Israel and the US.

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Some will label the coming ascension of Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency a victory -- for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the cause of Islamism writ large and for the ballot box over terrorism. After all, Morsi is now the nominal leader of a nation of 80 million people, the largest in the Arab world. It is a credential that Egyptian Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri can never hope for. But if you think this round in the unruly Egyptian saga post-Mubarak was won by the Brotherhood, think again.

Morsi inherits an Egypt in dire straits. Economically, the country is a basket case: Tourism is off by more than 30 percent, foreign direct investment is down 90 percent. The country is running on a three-month cushion of foreign reserves, and the only cash infusion in sight is coming from the International Monetary Fund, with strings attached. The Mubarak-appointed Constitutional Court has dismissed the Parliament and it’s not clear how it will be restored. Meanwhile in the region, Israel, Jordan and the Gulf are watching with trepidation; none will lift a finger to ensure Morsi’s success because of their own fears about the Brotherhood.

Then there are the expectations of Egypt’s people, already deeply disappointed in the revolution they led. The roughly 50 percent of voters who inked the ballot for Mubarak retread candidate Ahmed Shafiq were looking for a restored sense of security, protection for Egypt’s minorities, a promise of a secular future and economic reform. Others who voted for the Brotherhood (and for Salafi candidates in parliamentary elections) are looking for what Islamists have been promising lo these many years, including more Islam, less of a relationship with Israel and the United States and, of course, economic “justice” and social reform.

Morsi insists he has a plan that will restore confidence from within and without. He has changed his pro-Hamas, anti-Zionist, anti-Copt tune (on full display only a few years back) and promised to “be a president for all Egyptians: Muslims, Christians, the elderly, children, women, men, farmers, teachers, workers, those who work in the private and public sectors, and the merchants.” Under the best of circumstances, the challenge is a daunting one; add in the heavy-handed interference of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (S.C.A.F.) -- which recently arrogated to itself broad new political and police powers, nominated the committee that will draft the country’s new constitution and sees itself as the guardian of the status quo ante -- and Morsi is in for a hell of a ride. For better or worse, the Egyptian people will be riding along with him.

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