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 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT