News / Middle East

Egypt's President-Elect at Home in His Village

Elizabeth Arrott
CAIRO -- The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi will be Egypt's first freely elected president according to results announced Sunday.

Just a few months ago, the idea of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's first post-revolution leader seemed remote at best.

But in Edwa, his home village in the eastern Nile Delta, no one seemed to doubt this native son would come out on top.

During a campaign rally,  Morsi shared his humble roots with fellow villagers.

He reminded them, “We weren't born with golden spoons in our mouths.” He recalled how his father “toiled and sweated” and would take him to work on the back of a donkey.

It's a rare moment of personal connection with a crowd. Before a large audience, he can be stiff, earning him a reputation as uncharismatic. But his wife, Nagla Ali, tells a different story.

She says she “can't say he's a comedian” but that he does have a sense of humor. “He's serious at serious times,” she adds, “[and] entertaining during down time.”

After the rally in Edwa, many of those close to him crowded into his house - one of his several homes in Egypt. Morsi does seem more relaxed surrounded by family, friends and, as he proudly points out, his ducks. The U.S.-educated engineer, whose children are U.S. citizens, can even turn a political liability into a joke.

"This is the origin of the Egyptians, in Delta Nile, so it's better to talk Arabic. If they hear me they may get angry. You understand the situation, of course,” he said.

But to Morsi's opponents, there is nothing funny about a president from the Brotherhood. Morsi heads its more inclusive political wing, but that has done little to lessen fears among some Christians and women.

Nagla Ali said true Islam embraces believers of other faiths, and she tries to dispel the idea that women would be subservient. She recalled her husband's deference to her about joining the Brotherhood, with its attendant dangers, 30 years ago.

She told him, “No problem. Let's head down that road.”

That's the kind of consulting and collaboration Morsi's allies say he will need if he wants to succeed.

"He as president should be only an umbrella for all others who are not enrolled in the Muslim Brotherhood," said former presidential candidate Abdullah al-Ashaal.

But some believe that no matter what Morsi pledges, the Brotherhood is not, at heart, a sharing organization. Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo points to the insignia on the group's flags.

"They have swords. And I don't think the sword they have is to cut cakes," he said.

Nagla Ali argues that kind of thinking misinterprets Islam, and she says her husband will be a servant to all Egyptians. She used the example of an early caliph known for his fairness to all.

She quoted Omar Ibn el-Khattaba as saying “if a camel stumbles in the Levant, I'll be held responsible.”

But with no constitution, and the role of president still undefined, perhaps Morsi's first big challenge is finding out what responsibilities he will even have.

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