New Egyptian President on the Possibility of Voting for a Christian

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After my Atlantic cover story, "Danger, Falling Tyrants," on the Islamiziation the Arab Spring, I was told by Them That Know that I was making a bit too much of the Muslim Brotherhood's role in Egyptian politics. We were told by the experts that the Brotherhood wouldn't put up a candidate for president, and that the Brotherhood would never be popular with more than 20 percent of Egypt's population.

I happened to interview, for last year's article, the man who is the new president of Egypt, the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsy. Here is the relevant stretch of last year's cover story. I have more from my interview with Morsy, which I'll have to download onto this blog as soon as I stop traveling.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a global organization with autonomous branches, some more radical than others (the terrorist group Hamas, in Gaza, is a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, for instance). There is a diversity of opinion, but those who affiliate with the Brotherhood believe, generally, in the primacy of Muslim law; in the supremacy of Islam; and in the idea that women and men should play their traditional roles in society. They also tend to believe that the West (and Israel, the country they consider a Western outpost in the Middle East) seeks, through conspiracy, to undermine their way of life. American analysts are spending a great deal of time studying the Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere (the Brotherhood's Jordan branch, the Islamic Action Front, is that country's most potent opposition political force), and there is some debate, in and out of administration circles, about the true views of the organization, especially in Egypt. Since the Arab revolution began, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown signs of fracturing along ideological lines, but its leaders have proved somewhat adept at playing politics, particularly that aspect of politics in which hard questions are ducked.

I recently had a conversation with Mohamed Morsy, one of the Brotherhood's senior leaders, in which he refused, to an almost comical degree, to grapple with two simple questions: Could the Brotherhood support a Christian for the Egyptian presidency? Could it support a woman? (The Brotherhood's 2007 draft party platform, from which the organization is now trying to distance itself, makes clear that a Christian could not serve as president of Egypt.)

"Which Christian?" Morsy responded when I first asked.

I explained: not a particular Christian, but any Christian.

"There are no Christians running for president," he said.

Yes, I know. It's a theoretical question.

"This is a nonsense question," he said. So I asked him if the Brotherhood had ideological objections to a woman's running for president.

"Which woman?" he asked.

It is worth remembering, particularly at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to soften its image, that the group's essential platform remains unchanged. The Muslim Brotherhood's avowed creed is "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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