Dr Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new, democratically-elected President has disarmed his critics with an olive branch: his first appointments will be a Christian and a woman. This is the kind of clever PR move the Muslim Brotherhood is extremely good at making. They won over public confidence, after all, by setting up an alternative welfare system (schools, hospitals and food distribution for the poor) that established their credentials as do-gooders in the hearts and minds of Egypt’s Muslim population.
The President-elect won 52% of the votes in the historic election last Sunday. His promise of the surprising appointments will play well on the international stage: the west is worried about what a Muslim Brotherhood-led government will look like. In particular, fears have focused on human rights, women’s rights, religious tolerance and Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Dr Morsi himself, although educated in Southern California, is on record as saying that he believes in sharia law.
Dr Morsi’s talk of appointing a Christian will be welcome by Egypt’s Copt community — ten percent of the population. Following Hosni Mubarak’s fall in January 2011, Islamists have attacked the Christian minority in a series of violent incidents that have left dozens of Christians dead and their churches burnt to the ground.
The Brotherhood’s influence had been blamed for Islamist extremists. Let’s see whether Dr Morsi, at the helm, can dispel fears that the government will let the Brotherhood impose its ways on the rest of the population.