Egypt Presidential Election Runoff: Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood Aren't the Bad Guys

Most of the general "'Western"' public is likely to react with concern to Mohamed Morsi's victory in the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections, purely because he is the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate. Although Morsi's success is certainly indicative of the Brotherhood's political power, this alone should not be cause for concern. The Brotherhood has shown a desire to broaden its appeal and become a consensus party for Egypt, and a victory in the presidential election would give it that chance.

Critics have said that Morsi lacks charm, charisma, and the ability to read an audience. Despite these alleged shortcomings and a truncated campaign, he garnered nearly 25% of the vote, an impressive result for anyone in such a large field and particularly so for someone who was initially a "'back-up"' candidate. Morsi was brought in by the Brotherhood to replace Khairat al-Shater after the latter was disqualified from the presidential race by the SCAF due to a Mubarak-era conviction and imprisonment. Morsi entered the race just five weeks before the first round of the elections, and his subsequent climb from last place (as determined through various polls) to first clearly demonstrates the extent of the Brotherhood's clout and political will.

The Muslim Brotherhood's influence and power within Egypt is undeniable, and has led to apprehension and even fear in the West, where the organization is often associated – rightly or wrongly – with terrorism. What this conception ignores is the Muslim Brotherhood's legitimate role in Egyptian politics, and furthermore its efforts to become a consensus party in Egypt. As evidenced most recently by Morsi's statements assuring his intent to maintain and protect the rights of Christians and women, the Brotherhood has taken great pains to be seen as moderate and representative of a broad swath of the population.

The election of Morsi would give the Brotherhood a chance to disprove prior prejudices. Like any other organization, the Brotherhood wants to retain, and expand, its influence. The Brotherhood is aware that policies such as those that mandate Islamic dress and those that marginalize minority groups would be isolating and counter-productive to its political aims.

Further evidence of this desire for broad acceptance came Monday, in Morsi's promise to form a coalition government if elected. This promise demonstrates a clear willingness to cooperate in order to achieve a more inclusive government, and should reassure Western governments concerned about an “Islamist takeover” in Egypt. Additionally, Morsi has met with several revolutionary groups who – albeit reluctantly – seem willing to form a political consensus. The potential for this sort of cooperation should alleviate some concerns about continued riots from revolutionaries.

In the end, this is still just the first round of elections, and detractors and alarmists should at least wait until the second round is over before crying wolf. Even if Morsi does emerge victorious, he should, out of respect to the masses who support him, be given time to govern before his presidency is declared a disaster for Egypt. That may well prove to be the case, but only time will tell. Until then, there is no need for concern. 

For more coverage of Egypt's presidential elections, follow Egypt Elects on Twitter at @Egypt_Elects or at egyptelectsblog.com.

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James Taylor

James is a policy consultant and freelance journalist currently residing in the Washington, DC area. He covers a range of issues pertaining to the Middle East, most notably the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.

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