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Morsi (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images); Background: AP photo

Band of Brothers

A record of broken promises leaves Egypt's Christians wary of country's new Islamist leaders

Issue: "2012 Books Issue," July 14, 2012

Fireworks exploded and cheers erupted in Cairo's Tahrir Square when Egyptian officials announced on June 24 that a member of the Muslim Brotherhood had become the first freely elected civilian president in the nation's modern history.

Mohammed Morsi narrowly defeated former prime minster Ahmed Shafiq in a presidential run-off that riveted the nation and threatened civil unrest.

The Muslim Brotherhood's polling had already indicated that Morsi won the presidential run-off, stoking fears of mass rioting if the military-backed election commission declared Shafiq-a former regime member-the winner.

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The immediate fears of massive unrest eased with Morsi's election, but other fears remained: Would an Islamist president offer protection for Egypt's minorities, including a Christian population already facing discrimination and persecution?

An Egyptian worker for Open Doors-a U.S.-based Christian group that aids persecuted Christians-described a different scene as he and other Christians anticipated the announcement of Morsi's election: "Looking from their small windows over the square and hearing the shouts of victory, many Christian families are in deep anxiety and concern."

Morsi tried to allay Christians' fears that his presidency would prove oppressive by promising to appoint a Christian to a top political position, and saying that he would be a president "for all Egyptians."

But many Christians remained dubious, pointing to Morsi's past record: The newly elected president led the Muslim Brotherhood's drafting of a political platform in 2007 that included proposals that a council of Islamic scholars review government legislation to ensure that it comports with Islamic law.

Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in an online column for CNN that Morsi "represents the older, more conservative wing of the Brotherhood and openly endorses a strict Islamic vision." Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in The New Republic that Morsi was "an icon of the extremists in the Muslim Brotherhood."

Days before his election, Morsi rebuffed notions that he would push a fundamentalist Islamic agenda as president. But political analysts and minority groups note that the Muslim Brotherhood has broken promises in the past: Over the last 16 months the group has backtracked on pledges that it wouldn't nominate a candidate for the presidency or seek a majority in the parliament. (The organization's political party eventually won nearly 50 percent of parliament seats last year.)

Another stark example: During his campaign, Morsi pledged that he would maintain Egypt's 1979 Camp David peace accord with Israel. The day after his election, an Iranian newspaper quoted Morsi saying: "We will reconsider the Camp David Accord."

While Morsi's mixture of fundamentalism and shifting policy worries minority groups, it's still unclear how much power the new president will exercise in coming months. Just days before his election, the country's ruling military council made a sweeping set of declarations that drained powers from the presidency and left broad powers of legislation and security to the military.

That move pushed some secularists to form alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood to push against the military's powers. Reports of former President Hosni Mubarak's severely declining health offered a brief distraction ahead of the run-off, but demonstrators in Tahrir Square stayed focused on the future.

If Mubarak's medical condition remained hazy after Morsi's election, so did Egypt's future. The Christian worker from Open Doors said many Christians doubted that either presidential candidate could bring stability and rest to the country. "What do we Christians do with all this chaos around us?" he asked. "We continue to cry out in the name of our Father together: 'God save Egypt.'"

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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