Egypt candidate: Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi

By Yolande Knell
BBC News

image captionMohammed Mursi was originally the reserve candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood

Although he was not their first choice of presidential candidate, Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood is now throwing its weight behind the head of its political party, Mohammed Mursi.

The engineer, who is 60, has promised to bring "stability security, justice and prosperity" after a year of political upheaval.

"A coalition government led by the majority party is what will achieve the will of the people," Mr Mursi told his first news conference.

He said it was time to put into practice the Brotherhood's famous slogan, "Islam is the solution". He described its policy plans as having "a moderate Islamic reference".

Yet Mr Mursi also expressed hope that he could win over ultra-conservative Muslims after their favoured candidate, the Salafist lawyer and preacher Hazem Abu Ismail, was blocked from the race.

"The vote of the Salafists and the [Salafist] Nour party is of course our target as are other votes of Egyptians," he told journalists.

Mr Mursi handed in his nomination papers on the last possible day after it emerged that Khairat al-Shater, a millionaire businessman and deputy leader of the Brotherhood, might be prevented from running.

After 10 candidates, including Mr al-Shater, were disqualified, the Brotherhood officially shifted its support to Mr Mursi.

Now the more quietly spoken man is trying to make up for lost time and establish himself among voters.

His main competitors are Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist who broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood, the former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa and the former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. All are arguably more familiar to ordinary Egyptians.

However Mr Mursi is guaranteed the support of the Brotherhood's grassroots network and highly organised campaign team. This led its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to success in the parliamentary polls, winning the biggest number of seats in both the upper and lower houses.

Seeking renaissance

Mohammed Mursi took over the presidential platform that Mr Shater had previously announced. This places the Muslim Brotherhood's "Renaissance Project" centre-stage.

image captionThousands of Brotherhood supporters attended Mr Mursi's first major rally in Zagazig in the Nile Delta

It is a comprehensive plan meant to provide solutions for Egypt's manifold problems: from an overhaul of the economy and security services to dealing with the sanitation problem of rubbish in the streets.

In an interview with al-Jazeera TV, Mr Mursi said it had been developed on "a scientific and realistic, practical basis" and that "within the Brotherhood we all own this project, not any particular individual".

He has not yet spelt out a clear vision of how he would deal with the military. The Brotherhood is engaged in a power struggle with its top commanders, who assumed presidential powers after Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

However, Mr Mursi told the Reuters news agency that no "entity will be above the constitution" and that the military's budget would be overseen by parliament. He said he would consult the army over a choice of defence minister.

In interviews, Mr Mursi has not been able to escape questions over whether the Brotherhood is trying to dominate the political scene.

The group decided to field a candidate for the presidency despite earlier promising it would not. It was also criticised for using its parliamentary strength to try to dominate an assembly drawing up the new constitution.

Like other top officials in the group, Mr Mursi argues that its decisions have been based on changing realities and warns of "dangers threatening the revolution".

He has also insisted that he would maintain his independence if elected to office, dismissing the idea that he would take orders from the Brotherhood's supreme guide and turn Egypt into a theocracy.

"There is no room for talk about decisions coming from outside the presidency," he told Reuters.

Devoted Brother

Mohammed Mursi comes from a village in the Sharqiya province of the Nile Delta and is married with four children.

He studied Engineering at Cairo University in the 1970s before moving to the United States to complete a PhD.

After returning to Egypt he became head of the engineering department at Zagazig University. He also rose in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and joined its Guidance Bureau.

Mr Mursi served as an independent in the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc from 2000 to 2005. He then lost his seat in his home constituency, after a run-off vote that he claimed was rigged.

As an MP, he was occasionally praised for his oratorical performances, for example after a rail disaster in 2002 when he denounced official incompetence.

He was chosen to be a spokesman for the Brotherhood and last year, after the Egyptian revolution, he became chairman of its new Freedom and Justice Party.

image captionMr Mursi was among guests at this year's Coptic Christmas Eve mass

With his calm, measured approach, Mr Mursi tends to chime with the conservative mainstream of the Brotherhood. Many insiders see him as a safe pair of hands.

However, some Western media raise concerns that his election would threaten the Coptic Christian minority and damage international relations.

It has been pointed out that Mr Mursi led criticism of the Coptic businessman, Naguib Sawiris, over a cartoon of Mickey and Minnie Mouse with a full beard and face veil that he circulated on Twitter, saying he had "insulted Islam".

Mr Mursi's aides insist that he will protect Christians' rights.

On the sensitive subject of Israel, Mr Mursi, says that he will keep the 1979 peace treaty but will not meet Israeli officials. He has promised to prioritise the Palestinian issue.

He has said: "Egypt's next president can't be like his predecessor, he can't be a follower who executes policies put to him from outside".

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