LONDON: Islamists around the world hailed Mohamed Morsy’s election as Egypt’s first freely chosen president as a victory for their cause yesterday while the West, Gulf states and Israel reacted with caution, wary of his political agenda.
Closely watched from Gaza to the Gulf, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate’s win over former army general Ahmed Shafik was widely seen as an historic event with far-reaching consequences beyond Egypt’s borders.
“The Egyptian nation did not elect a president just for Egypt, but for the Arab and Islamic nations too,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, which hopes Morsy may end Cairo’s cooperation with an Israeli blockade.
Though Israel has tried hard to weaken Hamas, it too voiced respect for Morsy’s victory and the “democratic process”, while urging the new administration in Cairo to uphold the peace accord maintained by Egypt’s ousted leader Hosni Mubarak for 33 years.
Viewing the victory through the prism of the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen as well as Egypt, Islamists said they saw Morsy’s win as proof their “revolution” was on the march.
“Mohamed Morsy a president for Egypt, thank God,” said Mohammed al-Qahtani, a co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), a group pushing for democracy.
“This is a victory for the Arab revolutions,” he said in a post on social networking site Twitter.
The United States, which provides vast military aid to Egypt, welcomed the result but made clear it expected Morsy to ensure stability and not to veer to extremes.
“We believe that it is important for President-elect Morsy to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement, calling on the new leader to ensure Egypt remained “a pillar of regional peace”.
Iran, which prides itself on its own Islamist credentials, paid fulsome tribute to those it called “the martyrs of the (Egyptian) revolution”, whom it said were responsible for ushering in “a splendid vision of democracy”.
“The revolutionary movement of the Egyptian people… is in its final phases of a new era of developments in the Middle East and the Islamic Awakening,” the foreign ministry said.
In Saudi Arabia, the world’s number one oil producer, the government was silent. Its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood have been poor, with many of the kingdom’s officials accusing it of backing demands for internal political change.
However, analysts said Saudi Arabia would have to work with the new Egyptian president.
“I think (the Saudis) are going to be very practical about it. More and more they will discover common interests in the economy, in politics, on how to deal with Iran,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent former newspaper editor with ties to the ruling family.
A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the election was a major milestone in Egypt’s democratic transition and that Ashton hoped the new president would be “representative of Egypt’s diversity”.
In Britain, William Hague, the foreign minister, gave Morsy a muted welcome, urging him to build bridges and uphold human rights, including those of women and religious minorities, in a statement broadly echoed other EU member states.
Turkey, an increasingly important power in the region, said Morsy’s win reflected the will of the people, but made it clear he had a lot to prove. “Important tests await the new president who will lead the Egyptian people to the free and pluralist democracy they deserve,” the foreign ministry said.
Across the Gulf, reaction was cautious.
In the United Arab Emirates, the WAM news agency said the government respected “the choice of the Egyptian people in the context of its democratic march”.
Dahi Khalfan, the Dubai police chief, was more skeptical. “An unfortunate choice,” he said in a tweet. “The repercussions of this choice will not be light to poor ordinary people.”
Bahrain’s state news agency said King Hamad congratulated Morsy, praising “an atmosphere of freedom and democracy”, while Jordan’s Minister of State for Information Samih al-Maaytah told Reuters his country hoped Morsy would ensure stability.
Many Egyptians living abroad expressed relief, saying they felt their homeland finally had a chance to flourish.
In Riyadh, Abdulhamid Saraya, 60, an expatriate Egyptian engineer, said Morsy’s win was a watershed.
“I am happy we are ending 30 years of injustice. (Ahmed) Shafik’s loss is an end to a dark age that forced us to leave the country and live abroad most of our lives to escape injustice and poor living conditions,” he told Reuters.
Muslims elsewhere said they were also pleased with the result, but some had advice for the new president.
In Algeria, Atef Kedadra, a senior journalist on the country’s El Khabar daily newspaper said Morsy’s victory carried tremendous symbolic importance but he would now have to show he was inclusive. “If he appoints only Islamists, he will lose because the Islamists are not used to ruling a country.”
In Abu Dhabi, a 37-year-old government employee who gave his name as Seif, was upbeat. “I am sure Egypt has a bright future. The Brothers are forced to keep up with modernity, progress and openness. They don’t want to destroy or harm their country.”
Catherine al-Talli, a prominent Syrian human rights lawyer, said events in Egypt were likely to encourage the opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad.
“It shows that the popular will brings about democratic change, and that when the people chose to rise against repression they can defeat it,” she said.
The opposition Syrian National Council agreed, calling Morsy’s victory “a source of hope for the rebellious Syrian people”.
In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Laya, a woman who goes to Cairo frequently said she was concerned about how Morsy’s victory would change the way women were treated.
“They will think it’s now okay to approach girls and reprimand them for the way they dress,” she told Reuters.
Other Muslims said they worried Morsy’s victory could open the door to fundamentalism.
“Egypt, the most moderate Arab state, run by fundamental Islamists, that’s what I call a living nightmare,” said Adel Hamza, a 42-year-old music lecturer in Baghdad.
“Al Qaeda is holding celebrations all over the world now.”