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Tough Road Ahead For Egypt's New President, Islamists

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The winner of Egypt's first competitive presidential election is the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi. The official announcement was made Sunday to the cheers and jubilation of a massive crowd in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Challenges remain, however, as the ruling military council has effectively stripped the incoming president of most of his powers. The popularly elected Parliament, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, was also dissolved.

Despite the military council's limiting of the president's power, Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, says it's still unclear if Morsi's hands will be completely tied.

"I don't think he will only be the person who is allowed to greet foreign dignitaries at the airport," Shehata tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "[But] certainly ... [it] restricts his power to execute a plan to govern Egypt."

Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood, represent a political movement that is fundamentally at odds with the Egyptian military's vision. Shadi Hamid, director of research of the Brookings Doha Center, tells Raz that this is just the opening salvo in a long struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling military.

"At the end of the day, they both want to dominate Egyptian politics," Hamid says. "At some point, there isn't going to be enough space for both of them."

In the short term, Hamid says, both groups have to learn to live with each other so they have an interest in finding at least a temporary arrangement.

These power struggles aside, Morsi's election is still meaningful for Egypt, Shehata says. The fact that the candidate who won was not the one supported by the ruling military council, he says, means the votes put in the ballot boxes actually counted.

"It means that the revolution continues," he says. "It also means that the old regime candidate is not at the helm, and revolution has not been issued a death certificate."

Domestic Struggles

Millions of educated but unemployed young people, a corrupt oligarchy that controls private industry, a massive underclass and religious tension are just a few of the problems Egypt's economy faces. These are now up to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to solve.

If Egyptians don't see marked improvement in their daily lives, Hamid says, they could easily turn on Morsi and the Brotherhood. That was a risk the Brotherhood felt was worth it, he says. Because of that, the Brotherhood and Morsi are likely to put everything they can into this democracy.

"For them, everything is at stake," he says. "So I think there is kind of an incentive structure that will push the Brotherhood to confront the issues that matter, rather than the divisive religious and social issues that sometimes distract Egyptians."

The Brotherhood has said Egypt's future will be in the hands of a diverse number of groups, not just the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi has even pledged to name a prime minister and other top officials from outside the Brotherhood as part of a unity government.

Foreign Relations

Hamid says many regional leaders are unlikely to be happy with the results of the Egyptian elections, as they see the Brotherhood as an enemy; many countries have Islamist opposition groups. Anti-U.S. and anti-Israel comments from Morsi and the Brotherhood are also likely to make Western observers concerned.

"That said, with the Muslim Brotherhood, pragmatism comes first," he says. "They know they have to work within an international system ... so they're going to find a way to work with what's in front of them."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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