Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the New Boss

Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the New Boss

Article excerpt

On my first visit to Egypt, soon after Hosni Mubarak succeeded the assassinated Anwar Sadat as president, a cruel joke was circulating among Cairo's cognoscenti. 'When Nasser came to power, he looked around for the most stupid member of his party and appointed Sadat as vice president. When Sadat came to power, he looked around for the most stupid party member and chose Mubarak. But when Mubarak came to power, he looked around. . . and couldn't find a successor.'

On this point, at least, Mubarak was prescient: there would be no successors from his clapped-out party. Instead, when the Egyptian people had the first chance to express their democratic will, they elected a parliament dominated by Muslim fundamentalists.

And when it came to choosing a president, Egyptians opted for the lacklustre Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Mursi, over Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general and prime minister under Mubarak.

That was not how the Tahrir Square Revolution was supposed to end. Not, at least, in the view of the western political and media classes, who hailed it as the first shoots of liberal democracy in the Arab world. The reality is that there is no overwhelming taste for liberal democracy in Egypt, just as there is not in Syria, Libya, Yemen or Tunisia. Rather, the trend is towards a kind of 7th-century supernatural mysticism: xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-secular, anti-western and anti-Semitic.

In spite of Mursi's apparently emollient declarations after his victory was announced on Sunday - 'I will be a president for all Egyptians' - he is emphatically not a man for all seasons. He is trusted by the Brotherhood precisely because he is regarded as being ideologically unbending, 'an icon of the extremists', says one source. Mursi pushed the Brotherhood into adopting a radical Islamist agenda and can be relied on to propel Egypt along a theologically conservative trajectory, while purging those who disagree with him.

'There are people who think they're the temple guards. He's one of them, ' said one purge victim.

Mursi's commitment to the cause is unlikely to ameliorate the condition of women or the concerns of the subservient Christian minority (he refuses to entertain the prospect of a future Christian president of Egypt). Nor do the Israelis draw comfort from his election.

Just hours before his victory was announced, he told Iran's Fars news agency he planned to improve ties with Tehran and reassess Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

In fact, it is uncertain precisely how far Mohammed Mursi will be able to carry his bizarre dreams. The newly elected parliament was peremptorily dissolved by court order, ostensibly because of voting irregularities, while the military suspended the constitution and effectively neutered the presidency in what some see as a velvet coup immediately after the parliamentary success of the Islamists.

When Mursi assumes office this week, he will be able to appoint a cabinet, but little else.

His writ will not extend to the budget, internal security, foreign affairs or the military.

The immediate future holds the prospect of a grim power struggle between the politicians and the generals who make up the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. The men with the guns - guardians of the nationalist-secularist revolution that catapulted Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952 - have held the Brotherhood at bay for 60 years. …

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