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Morsi Ushers in New Era in Egyptian Politics, Relations with US

  • Mariama Diallo

WASHINGTON - Islamist politician Mohamed Morsi will be sworn in Saturday as Egypt's president - the result of a democratic election after a popular uprising toppled long time ruler Hosni Mubarak last year.

Thousands celebrated Mohamed Morsi's victory in Tahrir Square last Sunday - the same square where 18 months ago Egyptians demanded the departure of then-president Hosni Mubarak .

David Schenker is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He says Egyptians can be commended for holding free and fair elections, but the hard work starts now.

“You still have, by the way, the military, which stands above politics and above accountability to elected officials in the country," said Schenker.

Schenker says this power shift could affect relations with the United States.

“The U.S. government is going to have to give the Morsi government time to get in place its policies and we’ll set our policies accordingly," he said. "We give Egypt $1.5 billion a year. We’ll want to continue it, but I don’t think Congress is going to give the new government a free pass indefinitely.”

One Western concern is the rights of women, as once-banned Islamist parties gain more power.

But a recent Gallup survey in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya and Yemen found that Arab women are as likely as Arab men to favor Sharia law as a source of legislation. Dalia Mogahed is the executive director of the Center for Muslim Studies at Gallup.

“The percentage of women and men who see no role of Sharia is quite small. It ranges from only 1-2 percent in Egypt and Yemen, and 10 percent in Tunisia, which obviously means that a vast majority across the region see a role for Sharia to varying degrees," said Mogahed. "In Tunisia most people want it as a source but not the only source. In Egypt it’s about half and half.”

Adel Iskander is with the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University:

“To a large extent, political Islam is playing an instrumental part because it’s filling a void, void of pan-era politics or nationalist politics," said Iskander. "They are incredibly successful across the board and extremely organized.”

And he says the U.S. is taking notice.

“It seems like the U.S. government has begun making public overtures, that whatever democracies will bring is going to be acceptable to the U.S. so long as mutual interests and mutual sovereignty are respected. I think it’s a major shift for America foreign policy in the region as well," he said.

Another big change - what's expected of the region's newest leaders.

“Whether it’s in Tunisia with Ennahda or Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or similar factions in Libya and elsewhere, unless they are able to deliver on what is functionally important for the average citizen, they are not going to be contenders for very long," said Iskander.

In his congratulatory call to Mohamed Morsi, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will continue to support Egypt’s transition to democracy and stand by the Egyptian people as they fulfill the promise of their revolution.

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