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The Nimble Mr. Morsi-Egypt's New President

Sep 05, 2012

President Mohamed Morsi [1] is exhibiting surprising nimbleness on both Egypt's  domestic front as well as on the international stage.  His public dressing-down last week of the Assad government signaled Morsi's willingness to support the on-going toppling of autocratic regimes in the Middle East. Himself a product of the Arab Spring, Morsi's stance against the leader of a neighboring  Islamic state was dramatic.  Morsi directly implicated the Assad apparatus in the death of its own people and called for a transition to a representative government. Using muscular language, he denounced the actions of the Syrian government as "oppressive and illegitimate".  His words called on other Arab states to support the revolution in Syria through a tone of shared responsibility for the civilian deaths,  "The blood of the Syrian people is on our necks, and it will not stop unless there is an intervention by all of us, Morsi said". Most surprising to observers of this new Egyptian president was the timing of these remarks.  Morsi demonstrated his impolitic confidence by indicting Syria  at the Nonaligned Movement summit, (NAM) hosted by Iran, in Tehran. In the presence of  delegates from Iran and its key ally Syria,  Morsi spoke out against the brutal slaughter of the Syrian people.   It was during this summit that President Morsi courageously broke the unspoken code within the Middle East and ushered in a new and unpredictable shift in the geo-political balance between states in the Middle East. Morsi has demonstrated a willingness to carve an independent path for the future of his state.  On the domestic front his exercise of independence will certainly be challenged by those who retain the strongest hold on power.  But should Morsi establish himself as a regional leader, this leverage could present an interesting turn of events on the global stage. The end of the Muhbarak era necessarily  meant a shift in U.S. influence in the Middle East.  Given the actions of President Morsi in his few short months in office, it should not surprise observers to see a more independent stance with Washington. The reaction of Washington will be key to the FUTURE  U.S./Egypt relationship. Many in Washington remain suspicious of Morsi and his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  But a more nuanced examination of him is warranted.  It would be a mistake to reduce the first democratically elected president of Egypt to the singularity of the Brotherhood for two obvious reasons:

  • First, the Muslim Brotherhood has evolved since its inception in to a multifaceted and multigenerational organization.  Given its internal evolution in the past decade, it would be a serious misstep to demonize the MB today.  This is not the same organization as that of the post-Cold War period.
  • Second, Morsi himself is evidencing  views in support of human rights.   Certainly, many of Morsi's views are reflective of an Islamist agenda but his statement of concern for human rights is resonant with U.S. policy.    This cannot go unnoticed and should be widely reported in the media. 

The nimbleness of Mr. Morsi will require Foggy Bottom experts to skillfully  amplify what is resonant with U.S. policies, while at the same time use constructive measures to build a viable Egyptian economy. At such future moment in time when tensions between Cairo and Washington will be high we would do well to remember that this man told the assembled delegates at a conference hall in the Iranian capital,  "We express our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost legitimacy.  It is not only an ethical duty but a political and strategic necessity."  His remarks sent both the Iranian and Syrian delegates in to disarray. The winds of the Spring scattered a new seed mix of culture, democracy, religion, political aspiration, leadership, Islamism, and human rights.  Contrary to the opinion of impatient analysts, the Arab Spring has not yielded to winterThere are seeds are growing in the Arab world and in Mr. Morsi we witnessed a very interesting green-shoot in the Middle East.

[1] Morsi's contribution to  post-Arab Spring Egypt is not yet clear.  The way forward is challenged by the economic problems that plague the people of Egypt.  Morsi lived in the U.S. during the 1980's when he earned a PhD from USC.  He taught at a CalState University before returning to Egypt to improve conditions in his home country.  For those familiar with the radicalized Qutb, while there are a few parallels, Morsi is not a leader formed in the template of Sayyid Qutb.  
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