Mohamed Morsi waves to his supporters during a campaign in Cairo. Egyptians will vote on May 23 and 24 in the first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
Instead, he’s running an underdog campaign. The group’s prodigious political machine, which turned the once-besieged opposition movement into the dominant force in parliament early this year, has to contend with an uncharismatic candidate and a shift in public opinion as many Egyptians have soured on the venerable Islamist organization.
The Brotherhood’s political stock is plunging, analysts and ordinary Egyptians say, because its political party has backtracked on promises and accomplished little since a predominantly Islamist cadre of lawmakers was sworn in in January.
In the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Abbasiya, where the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party campaigned vigorously in the weeks before the parliamentary elections, shopkeeper Abbas Helmi, 58, put down a Koran he was reciting softly to talk politics. On the eve of those elections, he said, Freedom and Justice campaigners set up stalls to sell residents subsidized meat and vegetables, drawing large crowds.
“People went and bought their meat,” Helmi recalled. “But after the vote, [the party workers] disappeared, and the people felt deceived.”
The backgrounds of the two front-runners — a former foreign minister who served under now-deposed Hosni Mubarak and a moderate Islamist who broke away from the Brotherhood — suggest that Egyptians may want a statesman who is more inclusive and less dogmatic about the role of Islam in governance than the devout politicians who control parliament.
But experts caution that it would be a mistake to dismiss Morsi’s chances outright. His rivals might be generating more enthusiasm and doing better in the polls, they say, but none has the Brotherhood’s mighty machinery or its network of allied preachers and local operatives.
“They go into full mobilization mode on Election Day,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert with the Brookings Doha Center who has studied the Muslim Brotherhood for years. “They play old-fashioned bare-knuckles politics, and they’re in it to win it.”
In addition to its robust get-out-the-vote campaign, the Brotherhood’s endurance of decades of oppression under Mubarak probably helped it to win sympathy during the parliamentary elections. But the group’s short stint in power has proved largely disappointing.
The Brotherhood-dominated parliament has passed no laws of consequence since its January inauguration. Many Egyptians have been disenchanted by the Brotherhood’s refusal to prioritize the repeal of the reviled emergency law, which has been used for decades to crack down on dissidents.
The Brotherhood’s handling of another controversial issue, the use of military trials to prosecute civilians, has angered human rights activists. Parliament recently restricted the president from referring civilians for prosecution in military court, but it stopped short of also barring the armed forces from doing so.