Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Can we trust Egypt's new president?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
August 16, 2012 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
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
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT