Profile: Mohamed Morsi

Egyptian leader rose through Muslim Brotherhood’s ranks to become country’s first democratically elected president.

A handout photograph released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
Morsi was elected president of the Arab world's most populous country in June 2012 [EPA]

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was overthrown by the army on July 3 after massive nationwide protests calling for his removal on the first anniversary of his rule.

He was born in 1951 in the Al-Sharqiya governorate in northern Egypt, and raised in the village of El-Adwa in the Nile Delta.

Morsi, the son of a farmer, was educated at Cairo University, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering. From 1975-76, Morsi served in the Egyptian military, in the chemical warfare department.

In 1979 Morsi joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group often cracked down on by the Egyptian government, while he was studying in the United States. His education took him to Los Angeles, where he earned a doctorate at the University of Southern California in 1982, on a scholarship. He stayed in academia, working as an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, until 1985.

He then left the US with his wife and children to head the engineering department at Egypt’s Zagazig University, near his hometown. He now has five children, two of whom are US citizens.

Morsi rose within the Brotherhood ranks, becoming a member of its powerful Guidance Bureau in 1995. He was elected to parliament in 2000 as an independent candidate, since the Brotherhood was officially banned from running for office, and served as the group’s spokesperson within parliament.

In 2006, Morsi was jailed for seven months for taking part in a demonstration supporting judges who were demanding judicial independence. He was also arrested and detained briefly during the 2011 uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

After Mubarak fell, the Muslim Brotherhood founded the Freedom and Justice Party as its political wing. Subsequent elections for a constitutional assembly and parliament were dominated by the well-organised Freedom and Justice Party.

The party initially chose Khairat el-Shater to run as its candidate in presidential elections, but he was disqualified by a technicality. Morsi was chosen as a replacement, leading some to refer to him as the Brotherhood’s “spare tire” candidate.

In presidential elections held in May 2012, Morsi won almost 25 percent of the vote in the presidential election’s first round – more than any other candidate. Morsi, assuring Egyptian voters that he would not govern as a theocrat, narrowly beat Ahmed Shafiq – the prime minister under Hosni Mubarak – in a runoff round the following month, with almost 52 percent of the vote, and took office on June 30.

The triumph of Morsi, an Islamist and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, would have been unthinkable just two years before.

First civilian president

As president, Morsi moved to consolidate his power by diminishing that of Egypt’s powerful armed forces. Since 1952, every Egyptian leader until 2012 had been a member of the military. In August 2012, Morsi dismissed Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who had ruled Egypt after Mubarak was overthrown – though appointed him as a presidential advisor.

In November, Morsi issued a controversial decree putting presidential decisions above judicial review. Under pressure, he then annulled the decree the following month.

Upon taking office, Morsi inherited a sclerotic economy, unrest in the Sinai Peninsula, and frequent mass demonstrations, but the problems have continued. High unemployment and a depreciating currency have angered many Egyptians, and his critics – from seculars and liberals to supporters of the Mubarak regime – say he has failed to keep his promise that he would govern as a moderate.

Protests, sometimes turning violent, occurred in December and January, and almost 60 people were killed in January 2013 on the anniversary of Mubarak’s ousting. Meanwhile, the tourism industry, the mainstay of the Egyptian economy, has suffered amid the turbulence.

Religious minorities such as Coptic Christians have been distrustful of Morsi and the Islamist-dominated legislature, and have blamed the Islamist-led government from failing to protect them from sectarian violence.

Discontent with Morsi crystallised into mass protests on June 30, organised by the Tamarod (or “rebellion”) campaign which demands the president step down. Millions took part in the demonstrations, and in response the military delivered Morsi an ultimatum to restore stability within 48 hours. The deadline expired at 14:30 GMT on July 3.

Foreign policies

Morsi has strongly condemned Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, calling for military intervention on behalf of rebel groups fighting in the country’s civil war. In June 2013 he announced that Egypt would sever ties with the Assad regime.

In August 2012, Morsi travelled to Tehran for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, becoming the first Egyptian leader to travel to Iran since its 1979 revolution. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reciprocated by meeting with Morsi in Cairo in February 2013.

Morsi has said he does not support abandoning Egypt’s peace treaty with neighbouring Israel, but that it will be “reviewed”. The Egyptian president won praise for helping to negotiate a ceasefire after Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in November 2012.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies