Morsi’s Moment

Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi: Peacemaker, savior, tyrant?

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Nadav Kander for TIME
Nadav Kander for TIME

The most important man in the Middle East started 2012 as much a stranger to the people he now rules as he was to the rest of the world. Although Mohamed Morsi had long been part of the core leadership of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, he was viewed as a back-room operator, largely unnoticed among the Islamic party’s more charismatic political and religious figures. Not many outside of a handful of State Department Arabists in Washington had even heard his name.

And yet the year’s end finds Morsi instantly identifiable worldwide, even as his intentions in Egypt and the region remain very much unclear. In recent weeks, he has been hailed as a peacemaker by the U.S. and Israel, a savior by the Palestinians, a statesman by much of the Arab world—and branded a tyrant by the tens of thousands who have jammed Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square since Nov. 22 to denounce him. Whether you think him a hero or a villain, the short, stocky Islamist with the professional air is navigating some of the world’s trickiest political waters.

(MORE: An Interview with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: ‘We’re Learning How to Be Free’)

Morsi doesn’t pretend his tenure has been perfect and argues it can’t be. Speaking with TIME in his first interview with the international media since the Gaza crisis, he points out that his government is Egypt’s first experience of real democracy. “So what do you expect. Things to go very smooth? No. It has to be rough, at least,” he says. But he also gives the impression of a man having a year to remember. “2012 is the best year for the Egyptians in their lives, in their history,” he says. “We’re suffering, but always a new birth is not easy, especially if it’s the birth of a nation.”

When the interview was scheduled, Morsi was riding high. His successful brokering of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas had given him widening international and domestic support, a feat unmatched by any other Arab leader in the modern era, and offered the prospect that Egypt might again lead the region as it did under Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s. Morsi had already displayed unexpectedly nimble political skills to pry executive power away from the Egyptian military. For a moment, there was even the possibility that Morsi had amassed just the right proportion of international credibility and domestic political capital to start delivering on the promise of the Arab Spring. But then he overreached. Instead of consolidating the power he had amassed in service of his country’s emerging democracy, he grabbed for more.

(MORE: Washington’s Two Opinions of Egypt’s Islamist President)

As Morsi spoke with TIME at the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis suburb, most of Egypt’s major cities were again ringing with the chant that had been the Arab Spring’s rallying cry: “The people want the fall of the regime.” The slogan that helped bring down Hosni Mubarak is now being hurled at the country’s first democratically elected civilian President by both cronies of Mubarak and the revolutionaries who toppled him. In Tahrir Square, judges appointed by the old dictator, many of whom enabled his decades-long repression of political dissent, joined their voices with liberal and secular activists. The most popular joke in Egypt these days is that Morsi has done the impossible: he has united the opposition.

Morsi achieved that by issuing an emergency decree on Nov. 22 appropriating for himself sweeping new powers, including immunity for his decisions from judicial challenge. The President insists his decree is a temporary measure designed to prevent politically motivated judges from undermining the process of creating a new constitution. But to critics, one particular provision, giving him “power to take all necessary measures” against threats to national security and to last year’s revolution, smells of dictatorship. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate and liberal politician, dubbed Morsi the new pharaoh.

For the rest of the world, however, and especially the U.S., the stakes are even higher. Whether Morsi proves to be a reformer or an autocrat will play an outsize role in the prospects for continued peace with Israel, the fate of democracy in the Middle East and the balance of power in the world’s most unstable region. “We will soon learn what kind of leader he is,” says a White House official, “because this current episode is very much a test of his capacity to work effectively with all the various interests in Egypt.”

POLL: Should Mohamed Morsi Be TIME’s Person of the Year 2012?

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59 comments
abodooma
abodooma

A tyrant wouldn't invite the opposition leaders 7 times to get their opinion in political events and 7 times they refuse his invites... A tyrant wouldn't take back 3 official decrees to please the opposition...

As a matter of fact I think he is a little weak when it comes to internal politics.. I think he shouldn't pay so much attention to them as they're minorities and Egyptians always vote against him.. They will never be satisfied no matter how he tries

سليمان
سليمان

قوله تعالى {إِنْ يَنْصُرْكُمُ اللَّهُ فَلَا غَالِبَ لَكُمْ وَإِنْ يَخْذُلْكُمْ فَمَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَنْصُرُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ} [آل عمران: 160] رئيس مصر رجل مؤمن لا يخاف الا الله و لن يكون تانبع لاحد سواء امريكا او غيرها

ybe123
ybe123

Give the egyptian chance? The main guy of terrorist organization which is mother of Hamas become a president! What kind of chance?He just waiting to receive the money from UN and USA. It will take some time to see him as sheep.So the voters who “actually don’t care about politics” have excuse and could choose him as man of the year. Please do not pretend to be blind like Europeans. 

heshoh64
heshoh64

Dears all egyptians first i am not a Muslim brother or anything else i amjust egyptianjust i wanna say give president morsi chance to cross thecrisis in egypt and if not we will go together to tahrer squair to tel him youhave to go. But right now he didn't get any real chance.

WilliamBalaz
WilliamBalaz

anyone who oppresses the process of government that suppress the checks and balances of a democracy would be considered a dictator sounds like morris

Brown
Brown

Morsi is a front man to a very dangerous fanatic organization based on flawed religious ideologies of the 7th century. 

It leaves me a very happy camper into 2013 he is not selected to be Time man of the year.

It would have been depressing.

adbasi9
adbasi9

Morsi is the optimal solution for Arab countries regardless the people who are supported by Jewish such as Albaradee and Omro Mosa. Morsi is the best leader among Arab presidents. 

Adel
Adel

For ages Egypt used to enjoy a tolerant, peaceful and moderate society.

There is no place for extremism, we will fight to live liberal, equal and friendly.

Adel Mostafa Ibrahim

adelonleave@gmail.com

ya3amo
ya3amo

Oh God, people here says he is a layer, been thing what would layer mean here :D 

AlHooLy
AlHooLy

Morsi♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ MorsiRead more: http://world.time.com/2012/11/28/morsis-moment/#ixzz2E60NkL9h

hassan_ismail
hassan_ismail

ارحــــــــــــــــــــــــل

hassan_ismail
hassan_ismail

الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام يسقط يسقط حكم المرشد

Tewkmanvin
Tewkmanvin

Mr. Morsi is intent upon becoming a theocratic dictator. It is interesting that neither the US nor Israesl is expressing very much concern.Should we continue to give Egypt $1 billon in aid each year? This is money that we do not have.

إنجيمحمد
إنجيمحمد

Morsi♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi ♥Morsi ♥Morsi √ Morsi♥Morsi ♥ Morsi √ Morsi

mghoneim2004
mghoneim2004

Most of Egyptians are supporting you Morsi. Go ahead and clean the remnants of the old regime

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Why is his head so small in that photo?

khagaraj
khagaraj

In Obama's language Morsi could be defined as a " bump-on-the-road " democrat.

MhmdAli
MhmdAli

Morsi is a big layer , I am one of the youth who participated in the 25th January revolution from the 1st day . I am in Tahrir square now protesting against this new dictator , who rule with the name of Islam , really a big layer . We dream with a new modern liberalized developed country ,this is our dream not a new Iran in the middle east , go to the hill Morsi .

M_Shehata1
M_Shehata1

نعم كل المصريين العاقلين يصطفون خلف رئيسهم الذى لا اشك فى نزاهته قيد انمله حتى يثبت عكس ذلك

AmrmohyEldin
AmrmohyEldin

I vote for Morsi to transfer Egypt to real democratic ,achieving our dreams & I sure he do now .People who are anti are just jealous for his success.The Egyptians trust in Morsi

zacoto
zacoto

Who are those people in Tahrir square.. Morse did what people wants him to do, Morse achieved some of the revolution goals ..I tell you who is there..the same  paid thugs that killed and beat the protesters in  2011, The thieves from the former party  that roped Egypt and gave its resources away.. the hungry power like Baradei and Sabahi ..and I promos you there are millions and millions of humbled  Morse supporters that will out number those people by far, that love and respect their president ..and are  not from the muslim brotherhood .. just like 

Anwar
Anwar

GO AHEAD MORSI, WE'RE ALL BEHIND YOU...

WaheedZakaria
WaheedZakaria

As an Egyptian, I feel like Mr. Bobby Ghosh has insulted my intelligence! Sir you are promoting the Muslim Brotherhood lies! The judges that Morsi are trying to get rid of are not part of the old regime, they are the ones who put Mubarak behind bars for God sake! how did you buy the brotherhood lies? Do you also know that article 220 of the draft constitution they are trying to pass basically implement the "rulings" and not the "principals" of the Islamic Sharia? which means that the testimony of a non-Muslim in court is void if it is challenged by a Muslim's testimony. It means the death penalty to anyone suspected of blaspheming against Islam.. it means a Taliban Egypt.. so please ask around , get your facts straight before jumping into conclusions!

NabilHanna
NabilHanna

I scorned Morsi in  dealing with true marchers ,demonstrators and protesters

mabaza
mabaza

Keep going Murci. We are all behind.

KompasCom
KompasCom

BreakNews KOMPAS.Com from Broken indonesia:

the indonesian stupid rulers must be fallen first to be the 7 new countries before solving the media's regulation. 

Demoncrats.

hsknyc
hsknyc

Morsi was able to accomplish more in his first half year as Egyptian president than all of US Presidents for the past forty years.  I say we give this guy a chance.  And if the people of Egypt want an Islamic state, let them have it.  Don't come calling to us when the building start exploding and bombs starts falling...

سليمان
سليمان

@ybe123 Of 100 million Indians were killed in North America?Do the Muslims kill them

سليمان
سليمان

@ybe123 من قتل 100 مليون هندي في امريكا الشماليه ؟ هل المسلمون فعلو ذلك

AhmedIbrahimKormod
AhmedIbrahimKormod

@MhmdAli dont speak on behalf of all egyptians, you can speak only with ppl around you, who said that i'm with what you are doing ? if 2 million in the street ( which i doubt ) out of 52 million have the right to vote, so with small math, you guys represent 3.7% thats if 2 million really on the street, so in which bases you speak on behalf of all of us, if you dont like him , so go make him go by democracy way, not by burning and killing and forcing your opinion to the rest of 97%, same talks for the ppl with him , learn the democracy man

nilefax
nilefax

@MhmdAli انا مواطن مصرى مسلم انتخبت دكتور محمد مرسى ايمانا بالفكرة الاسلامية لأن مصر دولة اسلامية ولاتناقض بين الاسلام والحداثة ومن يلوم الدول الاسلامية على تخلفها ياليته قبله يلوم على الاحتلال الغربى الصليبى لتلك الدول ويلوم ايضا على الحكام العملاء امثال حستى حمارك وشفيق

سليمان
سليمان

@akram.nabil و الشعب قال كلمته ومرسي عمل اللي هو عاوزه ليك شوق في حاجه ؟

nilefax
nilefax

@akram.nabil d'nt care mr pres morsy about felol and criminals we all support you

zacoto
zacoto

 I promise you there are  much more support Morse than you can dream of....The thugs in Tahrir do not mean the majority of people.they are being pushed by the former party thieves ..the once that do not want the country to move on, the once that roped the country..so don't be a hater...Say the truth what do you really know?!!!, and why are you there...?!!!