A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 29, 2012

Who is Muhammad Morsi's Spin Doctor?

Since virtually no one — even within the Muslim Brotherhood, for whom Muhammad Morsi was their second choice for candidate — had previously detected any traces of charisma or eloquence in Dr. Morsi, it's natural for someone like me who lives and works in Washington to assume the man has acquired both an image coach and a spin doctor to make him seem inspiring. Maybe I'm too cynical; maybe we just never noticed he was a charismatic figure before but it was there all the time.

Morsi in Tahrir Today
The bits of his speech in Tahrir that I've seen (haven't seen it all yet) seem to show a populist side that seeks to identify his victory with the goals of the revolution, while proclaiming his independence of SCAF and demanding the full powers of the Presidency. He is also getting the tone right according to the occasion: for his first speech on TV after victory and his visit to the Presidential palace he was clad in a conservative business suit and tie; for his talk in Tahrir Square today he had an open collar. (He also unbuttoned his jacket to show he was not wearing a bulletproof vest.) I wonder if the man even owns the white galabiyya that is the marker of the Muslim Brother.

But what really makes me wonder if he has a spin doctor from the US or Europe or somewhere else that's been doing democratic politics longer than Egypt is the way he finessed a really sticky quandary today.

As I think I have mentioned, the President takes the oath in front of Parliament. But the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved Parliament and then, to complicate things, SCAF said the oath would take place in front of the Court itself. But that would recognize the Court's dissolution of Parliament, which Morsi says he rejects. But if he didn't, he wouldn't be legitimately President. Yesterday it was announced that he would indeed take the oath tomorrow, in front of the Court. So it looked as if he had caved to SCAF and the Court.

But then, as part of his Tahrir appearance today (to call for, among other things, and end to military rule), he mingled with the crowds and then swore the Presidential oath "among the people." It's all window-dressing, of course, as he will take the oath in front of the Court tomorrow and that's the one that counts, but as a piece of PR spin it strikes me as brilliant. He takes the oath "among his people" in the Revolution's iconic spot, Tahrir Square; then tomorrow he takes the "real" oath as required.

Ever since Jimmy Carter walked in his inaugural parade 35 years ago, most US Presidents have gotten out of their car to walk a block or two. Of course they get back in the limo, and Morsi is still getting sworn in tomorrow by a body he claimed recently lacked authority to do so, so he's still dancing to SCAF's tune, but symbolically he's finessed things rather well. The empty but potent symbolism is so reminiscent of American politics I have to wonder who his spin doctor is. 

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