Man of the moment
Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's first elected president, has yet to be deciphered, writes Dina Ezzat
In less than two months president-elect Mohamed Mursi will be 61. He will, in all likelihood, pass the day in the presidential palace, which he will occupy as Egypt's first non-military, first elected and first Islamist head of state.
Born in a small village in Lower Egypt Mursi is, for many inside and outside Egypt, a relatively unknown quantity. Those who have worked with him in both academia and politics, however, say there is little to reveal. With Mursi, they insist, what you see is basically what you get. He may not have the charisma of a populist demagogue, but he does have a great sense of commitment to the causes in which he believes.
Mursi joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1977, two years after his graduation from Cairo University. Members of the group speak of him as a reliable activist who undertakes tasks promptly, without much ado.
Following his graduation with honours from the Faculty of Engineering, Mursi pursued higher studies in the US where he lived with his wife, Naglaa, and where three of his five children were born.
In 1995 Mursi ran for parliament but failed to gain a seat. He stood again in the 2000 elections, this time successfully. In the People's Assembly his low key approach attracted little press coverage as he steadily developed a reputation for incisive questioning on socio-economic, security and political matters. By the time he was re-elected in 2005, he was an MP that the government had learned to watch.
He had also fallen under the eyes of the security apparatus, and was detained alongside other political activists for participating in demonstrations calling for greater freedom and democracy, most famously on 28 January 2011, the Friday of Anger. Arrested on the third day of the January Revolution, he was only freed after Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
Mursi does not lose his poise when his liberties are removed, say fellow Muslim Brothers. It is a sacrifice he is willing to make for the goals in which he believes. Foremost among them is to build a state in which people can live in dignity in line with the Islamic rules.
Unlike Khairat El-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy supreme guide and first choice as presidential candidate, Mursi is not inflexible. Those who monitored his climb up the ladder of the Muslim Brotherhood to the position of leader of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), say that ultimately Mursi is willing to negotiate and make compromises.
Unlike Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, the Guidance Bureau member expelled over his decision to run for the presidency, Mursi does not break rank. When Abul-Fotouh joined demonstrators on 25 January Mursi was attending meetings with other Brotherhood leaders on whether or not the group should go to Tahrir. Abul-Fotouh's presidential campaign involved a wide range of meetings and interviews while Mursi's campaigning was limited to traditional Islamist strongholds. He was hesitant about granting TV interviews and insisted on advance notice of the questions he would be asked, though given the hysterical tone of much of the media coverage of the Brotherhood, this may well have been a wise precaution.
Mursi joined the list of presidential candidates at the last moment, after El-Shater was prevented from running on legal grounds. The "spare-tyre", whose picture appeared photo-shopped on the famous Michelin advertisement across the social media, did not go to the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) to present his papers, as other runners did. He avoided that particular photo-op, sending his nomination with a lawyer.
When push came to shove Mursi, always the disciplinarian, lived up to the challenge he had been assigned. He brushed aside the mockery and followed the guidelines of a campaign originally designed for El-Shater.
Today, surrounded by presidential security, protocol officers and the whole array of head-of-state attendants, Mursi will find it difficult to maintain the levels of communication with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP with which he is most comfortable.
Some, who have known Mursi for over two decades, think he will find this discomforting, though they argue it will give him an opportunity to make his own decisions.
In the presidential palace Mursi will not only be disconnected from his lifetime comrades but under the scrutiny of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took over from Mubarak and is practically sharing the presidential mandate with Mursi, for now at least.
It is anybody's guess on how long Mursi will remain in his new post. Though in theory he should hold office for four years it is possible that following the drafting of a new constitution, expected with 12 months, a new presidential election will be called.
During the next year one thing is certain. Mursi will make the best of a difficult situation. In the end it is what he has always done.
He will attend meetings, assess problems, propose plans, tour other capitals, shake hands with friends and adversaries as he seeks to realise at least a semblance of justice and dignity in Egypt. He knows, as much as anyone, that it will take decades for the goals of the 25 January Revolution to be attained -- and he has no desire to be remembered as the first, and last, Islamist president of Egypt.