Backing the Brotherhood
Amani Maged interviews Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections and assesses his chances of success
Mohamed Mursi is the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. Born in 1951 in the Sharqiya governorate, Mursi graduated with honours from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University and then went to the US for graduate studies, obtaining a doctorate in engineering from the University of Southern California in 1982.
From there, he worked as an assistant professor at California State University in North Ridge. In 1985, he returned to Egypt, where he became professor and head of the materials engineering department at the Faculty of Engineering at Zagazig University. He continued in this post until 2010, during which time he also worked for a period at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University.
Mursi's relationship with the political bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood began when it was founded in 1992. He ran for parliament in 1995 and 2000, being elected an MP in the latter elections and becoming spokesman for the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc. On 30 April 2011, he was elected chair of the Brotherhood's recently founded political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Mursi explained his political ideas and programme.
In your view, what is the nature of the current crisis between the parliament and the government?
The government has failed miserably in its task of running the country. Its management has only wrought further attrition. We have therefore called for it to be dissolved and for someone else to be charged with forming a new government. If this is impossible, the present government should only continue for a two-month period in a caretaking capacity. Anything else would not be acceptable.
Would you consider working together with Islamist presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh in a future administration?
It is premature to speak about forming a presidential team. We all have to defer to the will of the Egyptian people. If I become the next president, I will take a good look around me and choose the most suitable people to work with me. This is not just about winning votes.
Would you consider stepping aside to help Abul-Fotouh's candidacy?
The Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP looked at the candidates in the field and tried to promote others who had not yet stepped forward. The latter people declined for reasons of their own, and as a result we decided to field a candidate for the presidency. Now that this decision has been put into effect, it is up to the people to choose the best man for the job.
The Salafist Nour Party has come out in favour of another candidate, while the Islamic Law Organisation has declared its support for you. What is your reaction to these developments?
Every group has the right to choose in the light of what it deems to be in its best interest. But ultimately this is about the people's choice. The people are not divided on the basis of Islamist and non-Islamist, and the domination or monopoly of a single political force is not an option in the future.
Before the January Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood's campaign slogan was "Islam is the solution". Yet, when you repeated this slogan following your nomination, you stirred outrage.
In the pre-revolutionary period, there was corruption, dictatorship and faked elections. At that time, "Islam is the solution" was merely a slogan, because there were no mechanisms to deliver on it. When I repeated it [following the revolution], my intention was to underscore the fact that now the slogan could be translated into reality. However, naturally it is not our campaign slogan.
Is the reason you have dropped the slogan the fact that you wanted to distance yourself from the image of being the Muslim Brotherhood candidate?
I am a son of the Muslim Brotherhood, and my intellectual and moral composition has been shaped by this group. Part of my creed is that the welfare of the nation comes above that of any party or group. I am presenting myself to the public on the basis of my personal qualities, my Muslim Brotherhood background, the fact that I am the Muslim Brotherhood/FJP candidate, and the need for us to work together to make Egypt a modern nation.
I did not drop the slogan to distance myself from the group. To me, the slogan has substance, and I have not distanced myself from that substance or that great call. The Brotherhood's Nahda (renaissance) Project is ready to be implemented, but I intend to keep an equal distance from all political trends. For the first time, the people themselves are drawing up a new constitution. What we are seeing now are the pains that attend a healthy birth. Hopefully, it will bring stability with it.
The "Nahda Project" was associated with the former Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater. Do you have a project of your own?
The Nahda Project is the Muslim Brotherhood's project. We have been working on it for many years. It started as a seed we planted in the 1990s, and we have nurtured it through research and academic studies in the hope of furthering the cause of the nation in all fields.
Many people wonder why Mohamed Mursi, with his distinguished career, would accept being a "replacement" candidate.
It was a wise decision to have a back-up candidate, and the Muslim Brotherhood is a long-established organisation that operates on the basis of clear and precise institutional thinking. Accordingly, the Brotherhood and the FJP decided that it was necessary to have one or more back-up candidates in the event that obstacles emerged to impede the nomination of Khairat El-Shater.
Fans and foes
WHILE many members of the Muslim Brotherhood support Mohamed Mursi's candidacy in the forthcoming presidential elections, including religious scholars and businessmen ready to laud his political acumen, intelligence, and political and parliamentary record, Ibrahim Hussein El-Sohagi, who works at the electricity authority in Dar Al-Salam, Sohag, has a unique experience of the Brotherhood candidate.
Al-Sohagi first met Mursi in the notorious Tora Prison for political detainees. "I had always hoped to meet someone like him, someone I could learn from and whose example I could follow," he says. "I was one of his greatest fans. I'd follow his speeches in the People's Assembly, and I admired the way he stood up for what's right, which is why he was elected best parliamentarian in that session."
"Then, my wish came true. One day, he was sent to Tora Prison along with a whole set of university professors and other professionals, all of whom were Muslim Brotherhood members."
Al-Sohagi was impressed by Mursi's erudition. While in prison, Mursi delivered many lectures on political science, explaining to the other inmates how countries are run, how institutions are created, the difference between democracy and the Islamic principles of shura (consultation), and how some countries are governed by stable institutions and others are not.
"He would speak at length on the experiences of other countries in creating constitutions and governments and how Islamic Sharia law should govern the affairs of the people," El-Sohagi added. According to this former prison colleague of Mohamed Mursi, he is strong in his faith and courageous in his defence of truth. "He feared no one but God, and he would say the truth even at the risk of his life."
However, not everyone shares El-Sohagi's high opinions of Mursi, some criticising him personally and others criticising the Muslim Brotherhood he represents.
Although the Nahda Programme that Mursi is now championing is better than the campaign platforms of other Islamist candidates like Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Mohamed Selim El-Awwa, according to vice president of the Salafi Calling Yasser Burhami, there is still the danger of a single group monopolising the reins of power should Mursi win the presidency.
Certain political "balancing acts" may also have lost Mursi the support of a portion of the Salafi voting bloc. While Mursi continues to adhere to the current formula of article two of the constitution, which states that the "principles of Islamic Sharia" form the major source of legislation, Abul-Fotouh has pledged to the Salafis that he would alter it to read "the provisions of Islamic Sharia," if elected president.
With respect to Mursi's personal qualifications, some observers fault him for his lack of sufficient political expertise, the influence El-Shater has had over him, and his lack of charisma. These deficiencies, when combined with the fact that he represents conservative hardliners in the Muslim Brotherhood, could hamper his chances of winning the presidency, some observers say.