Uncertainties Underlie the Celebrations in Cairo (NY) TIMES) By KAREEM FAHIM CAIRO, EGYPT 06/19/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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CAIRO — The first celebrations for the new president were joyous but
spare, a party overwhelmed by traffic and heat. In Tahrir Square,
flags waved and boys set off fireworks that disappeared in the midday
The hundreds who gathered on Monday cheered for Mohamed Morsi, a
candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood who had held off a challenge from
Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister and is set to become Egypt’s
first freely elected president. A milestone had passed and victory
had been declared. But even among the revelers, doubts remained.
“I didn’t sleep last night. I am happy we got rid of a remnant,” said
Ahmed Adel, speaking of the defeated candidate, Ahmed Shafik. On
Monday, Mr. Adel was forced to come to terms with Mr. Morsi, who had
not been his first choice, or even his second. “No one knows him,” he
Wrung through a never-ending transition, Egyptians spent the last few
days reeling from new tests. Voters, faced with polarizing candidates
at the polls, struggled with their choices. The country’s military
rulers issued new edicts, dissolving Parliament and stripping the
presidency of much of its power.
On Monday, Egyptians puzzled over their newly elected leader, whose
accidental candidacy thrust him to the center of a tense national
debate about citizenship, religion and politics. As president, Mr.
Morsi, a symbol of Egypt’s divides, was suddenly responsible for
“People who voted for Morsi chose him because of the institution he
represents, not because of him,” said Nermine Gohar, a 39-year-old
homemaker, one of many people — critics and supporters — who felt
that the Brotherhood and its candidate were inseparable. “Morsi and
the Muslim Brotherhood have earned this. They worked harder and
longer than anyone else.”
Mr. Morsi had not even been supposed to run. After the 2011 Egyptian
revolt, the Muslim Brotherhood declared it would not field a
candidate in the race, with officials saying they feared the public
would think them too eager to grab power.
After the group changed its position — claiming it had not been able
to find an independent candidate it could work with — Mr. Morsi, 60,
became their standard-bearer, but only after the Brotherhood’s first
choice, Khairat al-Shater, the group’s leading strategist, was deemed
During the first round of presidential voting in May, Mr. Morsi
distinguished himself in a crowded field of candidates for his lack
of charisma and for espousing polarizing, conservative views.
He barely appeared in his own campaign advertisements. His early
campaign stops with Mr. Shater led to the frequent charges that Mr.
Morsi was simply a stalking horse for the disqualified leader. People
took to calling him the “spare tire.”
Decades ago as a graduate student in the United States, Mr. Morsi
also seemed like an unlikely Islamist leader, said Farghalli A.
Mohammed, a friend and former professor. Pursuing his doctorate in
materials sciences at the University of Southern California in the
1980s, Mr. Morsi was a bright student, and keen to socialize, but not
especially pious or dogmatic. With a thesis titled “High-Temperature
Electrical Conductivity Structure of DonorDoped Alpha-Aluminum
Oxide,” he went on to become a professor.
“I never thought he would be a person associated with the Muslim
Brotherhood,” Dr. Mohammed said.
Mr. Morsi became one of the group’s most prominent leaders, serving
as the head of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc and on its
guidance council. He developed a reputation as a conservative
enforcer, stamping out political dissent within the group.
In May, after winning the first round of the presidential vote, Mr.
Morsi found himself facing Mr. Shafik, a former civil aviation
minister. As Mr. Shafik tried to amplify the threat posed by the
Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi tacked to the center. The Brotherhood
issued statements saying it would have no problem with a female or
Christian vice president, although Mr. Morsi indicated he would not
support women or Coptic Christians as president.
His victory would inaugurate Egypt’s first experiment in Islamist
governance. For decades, the government made dire warnings about the
Islamists, outlawing the Brotherhood and imprisoning its members,
while seizing on the threat to justify one-party rule.
On Monday, Ms. Gohar said she was sure the warnings had been
overblown. “There is this ignorant fear that the Muslim Brotherhood
will turn our country into Iran,” she said. “We need to give Morsi a
Others were more alarmed. “Mubarak was not kidding when he said that
it was either him or the beards,” said Youssef Tamam, 36. “What do we
even know about this Morsi? Everyone knows he won’t be calling the
shots. His own organization didn’t think he was the man for the job.”
Hany Essam, 42, a driver, spoke darkly of Egypt’s turning into Saudi
Arabia. “We went to Tahrir for freedom, and now we will be run by an
even more oppressive state,” he said. “What a failure this revolution
A few blocks from Tahrir Square, Ahmed Abdelradi, a petroleum worker
from Suez, sat in a sidewalk cafe explaining how he voted for Mr.
Morsi to “protect the revolution.”
Reflecting on the draining campaign, the long road Egyptians had been
forced to travel and the uncertainty ahead, he said: “We just want
the country to calm down. Strange things are happening. Strange
things.” Liam Stack and Dina Salah Amer contributed reporting.
(Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 06/19/12)
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