In the midst of a heated race for the U.S. presidency, many in the foreign policy arena are concerned about the implications of a new Egyptian government. How will Egyptian-American relations fare under recently elected President Mohammed Morsi? Will the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel remain intact? Although these are important questions, they are self-interested. The most fundamental question must be: is Morsi good for the Egyptian people?
First of all, one must recognize that Morsi was elected democratically. This is a massive step forward in a nation with a history of monarchs and dictators. Following three decades under Hosni Mubarak, an authoritarian and crooked leader, a newly democratic Egypt should be welcomed by all.
Representing the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, Morsi faced stiff competition in the ballots from opponents such as Ahmed Shafik, a holdover from the Mubarak era. Morsi took 24 percent of the votes in the first-round election, and narrowly defeated Shafik in the run-off. Critics assert that Morsi was not the people’s first choice, and that he barely won. Be that as it may, he was ultimately chosen to represent the population of approximately 83 million Egyptians.
An American-educated engineer, Morsi entered politics in 2000 when he became a member of the People’s Assembly of Egypt – the lower house of parliament. His affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is highly controversial, and has raised concerns about radical Islam infiltrating Egyptian politics. One can justifiably criticize an oppressive regime with a religious element. Yet, an Islamist Morsi reflects the will of a people who clearly support an Islamic presence in the government. He has vowed to include women and the minority population of Coptic Christians in politics, and to maintain freedom of religion. As long as he upholds these promises, it is not up to a foreign power to say that he can or cannot incorporate Islam into his platform.
Unlike his predecessor, Morsi appears determined to construct a foreign policy that does not bow to American preferences. He traveled to Iran in August, and put forth an independent and balanced position on the crisis in Syria and relations with Tehran. Although little evidence has been provided thus far, he speaks of a strong commitment to the Palestinian cause.
Back in Cairo, he faces a long list of domestic challenges. Enacting major reforms in an economically fragile environment will be tough. In the short time that he has been in office, Morsi has been unable to enact many of the policies he ran on, but he has excelled in weeding out many of the cronies of the past administration. Furthermore, he has significantly diminished the political power of the stubborn Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Despite noise from secular actors, he has not taken much action in the name of conservative Islam.
Although Morsi has not met expectations on all fronts, to date he has acted in a sensible and progressive manner. After years of totalitarianism and a turbulent revolution, a perfect government cannot be formed overnight. Morsi cannot be assessed properly after only a few months in office. In terms of relations with Washington, there is no reason to rush to judgment either. As part of a larger effort to repair its image and once again become a respected player in the Middle East, the U.S. needs to take a nuanced and understanding approach to dealing with Morsi.
Bayly Winder is a junior Political Science major from Princeton, N.J. He is the Middle East columnist for TheNews-Letter.