Middle East
10:23 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Next Goal For Egypt's Islamists Is The Presidency

Originally published on Tue May 22, 2012 3:28 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.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.