President Mohamed Morsi realises that he stands on shaky ground. He probably senses that many political groups, parts of the police state, the former regime, and regular members of the public would love to see him fail.
This is why he was quick to try and win the public’s hearts and minds by trying to counter fears many people would naturally have about an Islamist president. He met with artists, novelists, and promised to appoint Copts and woman as vice-presidents. He also reassured the police state that not much will change by stating clearly in his meeting with police leaders that he refuses the term ‘cleanse’ when it comes to police reform.
One thing is for sure, both his opponents and proponents will be closely watching his performance, between great hopes to see him succeed and the burning desire to witness him fail. Someone even established an online thermometer called the Morsi Meter to monitor and measure his performance.
Of course it is expected that Morsi’s predators would be the secularists, the liberals, summer holidaymakers at the North coast’s gated resorts, club-goers, whisky drinkers, vodka sippers, opposition parties, perhaps members of the old regime and the Armed Forces. However, against all expectations, the main and most serious opposition might come from his own backyard: some factions of what is referred to as the Islamist movement.
Early signs of the kinds of clashes that might occur in the future can be seen in the Salafist Al-Nour Party’s rejection of Morsi’s decision to hire Coptic and women vice presidents, because such moves would contradict their interpretation of Sharia’a. They have reportedly threatened to withdraw from the presidential team if Morsi insists on taking these steps.
Islamists’ full participation in the political and public life is a reality many still find hard to digest, which is why many people can’t get their head around the deep ideological differences between different shades of political Islam. As a result they think of them as a homogeneous force.
Islamist parties like Al-Wasat and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party could be better compared to the Christian Democratic parties in Europe, which are mainly characterised by their liberal, or neo-liberal, economic policies, but they remain moderately conservative on social matters as a lesser priority. The Brotherhood’s focus on the economy and their long history of working with all other political groups including, leftists, Arab nationalists, and liberals allowed them to develop a more pragmatic and a moderate approach to certain ideological issues.
This was clear in Morsi’s visits, meetings and speeches after he was announced the winner. His reception of prominent author Alaa Al-Aswany, who is known for his progressive views, sexually-explicit novels and his criticism of political Islam, shows that the Islamist organisation is willing to make concessions and extend a hand of cooperation even to those who sit at the opposite end of the political spectrum.
On the other hand, Salafi Islamist groups are more concerned with moral and social matters, and maintaining certain religious demographics. They wouldn’t shy away from resorting to violence and radical politics if needed. Unlike reformist Islamists, they don’t always work their way up the existing political system and institutions.
Salafists lack the Brotherhood’s pragmatism. It could be due to strict ideological positions, their relatively short political life, or a combination of the two. It seems inevitable that Salafist rigidity will affect Morsi, accusing him of warming up too much to liberals and not staying true to his promise of establishing their own definition of an ‘Islamic society’. It’s not only priorities that differ, but Islamists also disagree on many fundamental juristic issues related to women rights, freedom of religion, corporal punishment, and so on.
Therefore, this deep ideological difference within what is collectively referred to as political Islam will emerge to the surface now that the Muslim Brotherhood faces for the first time the pressures of making real political decisions after long decades of abstract ideas and mere talk. The Brotherhood is too pragmatic and economy-oriented to want to scare away tourists and investors and develop enemies on the international and the domestic level in the early days of their rule, but in the process of trying to make his traditional rivals happy, it is very possible that Morsi might accidentally turn old mates into new foes.