One turns to many sources to understand the character of Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president. There are his longtime fellow members in the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom he served time in Hosni Mubarak’s prison cells. (“He is steadfast, and pragmatic.”) There are his aides and advisers. (“He is a very careful listener,” “he is meticulous.”) There are his critics in the judiciary and the opposition parties. (“He is politically inept,” “he has the traits of a Pharaoh.”) There are the thousands of men and women who have taken to the streets against him. (“He is a puppet of the Brotherhood.”) And there are the ordinary people whose lives, quite by chance, have come to overlap with his. (A watermelon seller on a corner near his house told me this summer, “He has a good heart.”) There is fact and then, of course, there are the makings of political fiction.
When Morsi ran for president of the republic in the spring of 2012—the second candidate of choice for the Muslim Brotherhood after their first, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified because of a recent criminal record—few thought he had a chance. Here was a man with little of the personal appeal necessary to convince or sway, and no apparent vision save for the Al-Nahda (“Renaissance”) project that the secretive Muslim Brotherhood had prescribed as the answer to the struggles of a nation. The details of that “project” were vague, revealed only in much-repeated phrases: “job creation,” “Islam,” “economic revival,” “opportunity for youth,” “the next generation,” “Islam.” At Morsi campaign rallies you would also hear the words “religion,” “deviation,” and “redemption.”
Despite the backing of the leaders of the Brotherhood, who had proven their campaigning skills with a sweeping parliamentary win earlier in the year, Morsi’s uninspired presence pulled him down in the polls. Analysts cast his chances as shaky. Seemingly more popular were the charismatic moderate Islamist and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the former Mubarak minister Ahmed Shafik, and the former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
There was also the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to factor in—it had governed Egypt since Mubarak stepped down and controlled vast economic interests that it wanted to protect. It seemed unlikely that it would allow a potential threat to those interests to take power; many people believed that the regime’s millions of civil servants would be mobilized ahead of the vote in support of the army’s candidate of choice. The Islamists had been seen as an enemy of the army ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser cracked down on them in 1965. With the fall of Mubarak, the SCAF tried to fend off a rise of Islam. In the days before the second round of the presidential election in June 2012, it issued a sweeping constitutional declaration that diminished the powers of the president-to-be.
Morsi, and his Brotherhood supporters, then, trumped them all—the other…
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