Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Can we trust Egypt's new president?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Thu August 16, 2012
The words and actions of Egyptian President-elect Mohamed Morsi must be closely followed, Frida Ghitis says.
The words and actions of Egyptian President-elect Mohamed Morsi must be closely followed, Frida Ghitis says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Can Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi be trusted as Egypt's president?
  • She says Brotherhood has broken promises, modulating message for political gain
  • She says public comments are worrisome on women's rights, Israeli relations, enacting Sharia
  • Ghitis: Morsi, Brotherhood must show they'll hew to revolution's goals, not just grab power

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- The Egyptian uprising, launched by young liberals hoping to bring freedom, democracy and equality to their country, has finally produced a new president.

Mohamed Morsi, long known as the hard-line enforcer of the Muslim Brotherhood, has promised to govern for all Egyptians, vowing to protect the rights of women, children, Christians and Muslims. He says he will preserve all international agreements, implying peace with Israel, and has made a commitment to democracy, saying "there is no such thing" as "Islamic democracy."

It all sounds good, and tens of millions of Egyptians, along with millions more around the world, hope he is sincere.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

And yet the Muslim Brotherhood has much to prove -- beginning with whether or not it can be trusted.

For many years the Brotherhood was banned in Egypt, so it operated underground. Since the revolution, Egyptians have had a chance to see it in action. What they have seen so far is an organization impressively capable of modulating its message to suit specific audiences to achieve political gain.

More importantly, the Brotherhood has revealed a troublesome habit of breaking its word.

Morsi won the presidency, but not before his Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Brotherhood, managed to lose half of its popular support in a matter of months. Millions of Egyptians soured on the Islamist group after seeing how it acted since coming out of the shadows. Its leaders knew their presence would trigger international concern and probably a harsh crackdown.

Will Egypt believe Morsi's unity call?
Egypt's election divides Arab world
Egypt president-elect's message of unity
White House reacts to Morsi's win

When Hosni Mubarak fell, they pledged they would not try to control Egyptian politics. But they promptly changed their minds.

The Muslim Brotherhood leaders promised to contest only a minority of seats in the legislature, rather than trying to win a majority. They broke that promise. They promised, through Morsi himself, "We will not have a presidential candidate. ... We are not seeking power."

They broke that promise. They vowed to run a thoroughly inclusive process for developing a new Egyptian Constitution. They broke that promise, too.

Clearly, the Brotherhood, and the soon-to-be Egyptian president, have developed something of a credibility problem.

In parliamentary elections this year, Brotherhood candidates won 10 million votes, almost 40% of the total. The more radical Islamist party, the Salafis, took 28%. Altogether, Islamist parties took control of a stunning two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

The courts recently disbanded that parliament, but not before Egyptian voters had a chance to see it in action. It was a sobering sight.

Despite all the promises of supporting the ideals of the revolution and embracing equal rights for women, the parliament took on proposals that would have dramatically set back women's rights.

And when they put together a panel to write the constitution, it was so loaded with Islamists that a number of groups withdrew in protest and filed lawsuits. That panel, too, was disbanded by the courts.

Support for the Brotherhood collapsed. Morsi won just 5 million votes in the first round of presidential elections, half as many as in the parliamentary election, one of every four votes, and just one in 10 eligible voters. He won the presidency only because many voters felt the runoff left two terrible choices: the Brotherhood or a return to the Mubarak era. Many opted to spoil their ballot rather than support either candidate.

What became clear in parliament is that when the Brotherhood gained power, it legislated along much less moderate lines than when campaigning, giving speeches to mixed audiences, or speaking to the foreign press.

In the past, Morsi has called for banning women and non-Muslims from running for president. His election rallies reportedly featured pledges to imposing Sharia, chants of "Our capital shall not be Cairo. ... It shall be Jerusalem," and other deeply disturbing slogans.

Still, the Brotherhood is strategically oriented. It keeps its eye firmly on its long-term goals while displaying flexible short-term pragmatism. To win the presidency it negotiated with the strongest power in Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Morsi will not have a free hand to govern, at least not in the short term. The constitution is not even a work-in-progress yet. It's unclear what role the president will have. And there is currently no parliament.

Egypt is in dire economic shape, and the need to continue the flow of aid from Washington may temper rash impulses for now, particularly regarding peace with Israel. Although less than 24 hours after his "message of peace," he already seems to be backtracking on that front.

Morsi's words must be followed closely, but they must be matched against his actions, especially in the longer term, when the cameras leave Tahrir Square, the place where Egypt's revolution started with calls for real democracy and equality.

His first speech as president-elect touched on the right themes. But the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's soon-to-be president still need to show they are true to the ideals of the revolution, not just clever manipulators of a popular uprising.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT