Optimism and cynicism surrounding Egypt’s first elected leader

Mohammed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood “mediocrity” (as Robert Fisk so nonchalantly puts it), was declared Egypt’s first ever democratically-elected President this Sunday in a dramatic conclusion to an even more dramatic election. And while Mursi might indeed be nothing more than mediocre, his victory is at the helm of the discourse in Egypt, Palestine, and even Israel. What does his win mean and what will it bring?

Mursi’s victory wasn’t necessarily expected, for me at least. After all, the military junta positioned high above Egypt’s political sphere shares more in common with Mursi’s counterpart Ahmed Shafik, a leftover from the old regime. But to rig an election with the whole world watching is a daunting task that would certainly have led to more blood on the streets. Mursi’s win, then, was also a blessing in one way or another.

Mursi once drove a tok tok, those three-wheeled motorcycle and wagon hybrids that have taken Gaza by storm. In parts of Egypt (and Gaza, too) the tok tok is a status symbol for the poor. It implies hard work, long hours, and low wages. In essence, Mursi can identify with the layers of underprivileged Egyptians who, for almost a century, struggled against the weighty “reforms” of previous regimes. I use the past tense (“struggled” instead of “struggle) for a reason: although the dismal socioeconomic condition for most of the Egyptian population isn’t going to miraculously turn around in the next few years, Mursi has given many a reason to believe that it can.

But the optimism is not without its cynicism. Even his most vibrant supporters will admit to being a little cautious—an assertion that goes back to the days when the Muslim Brotherhood promised not to run for Egypt’s presidency if and when elections became reality. (It is worth noting that immediately following Mursi’s victory, the Muslim Brotherhood dismissed his membership and embraced him instead as Egypt’s new leader.)

Some people, although not necessarily the majority, also found his victory speech to be slightly unconvincing. It was, for all intents and purposes, an acceptance speech rather than a briefing about his policies or his party’s campaigns. One policy he did make sure to spell out, though, was his interest in actively maintaining Egypt’s peace treaties, a reassurance he didn’t have to make unless referring directly to one particular treaty: the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Why was that reassurance made in the first place? Seeing as the President is merely a figurehead enforcer for a constitution drafted to give the military the most discretionary power, the possibility of the peace treaty failing is slim. To many Palestinians in particular, Mursi’s words lacked the courage they were looking for.

And as freelance journalist and Jerusalem-based blogger Maath Musleh notes, the Egypt-backed siege on Gaza is henceforth enforced by the Muslim Brotherhood, unless, of course, Egypt does its part in challenging the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Change is expected, and soon.

Nevertheless, this is an Egyptian election not a Palestinian one and ultimately, its outcome serves the Egyptian people first and foremost. One mistake I find myself making far too often is judging individuals or institutions by the extent of their public support for Palestine. It’s a dangerous game to play. One shouldn’t be expected to dedicate their entirety to the Palestinian cause. But it also goes without say that support for Palestine’s liberation lies central to many of the Egyptian people’s demands. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is well aware of this and has kept a particularly keen eye on the Muslim Brotherhood and its potential influence on Palestine’s (specifically Gaza’s) esprit de résistance.

Overall, the people remain reservedly hopeful. Mediocre or not, Mursi is here to stay. Let us wish the best for Egypt and for the people Egypt’s elections inevitably affect.

Sami Kishawi

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