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Egypt Islamists tread lightly, sceptics squirm

During Egypt's presidential campaign, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, made no apologies for the group's slogan: "Islam is the solution."

world Updated: Jul 30, 2012 00:16 IST

During Egypt's presidential campaign, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, made no apologies for the group's slogan: "Islam is the solution."

Shariah law would provide the principles on which the country's legal system would be based, he acknowledged repeatedly. When he was sworn in last month, the Arab world's biggest country gained an unabashed Islamist as its leader for the first time, arousing alarm here and abroad.

Since then, however, the new government has not publicly made a single Islamist move.

"For 80 years, hundreds of thousands of books and articles were published about what would happen in case a Brotherhood president made it to power in Egypt," wrote Ahmed Samir, a columnist in local newspaper El Masry El Youm.

"It was said that veils would be required, banks would be closed, a war would be declared, and bathing suits would be banned. Today we discovered what happens when a Brotherhood president holds power. Simply nothing."

Such a definitive pronouncement could be premature. The Brotherhood has often taken the long view, preferring incremental change to sweeping gestures.

And Morsi's power has been severely circumscribed by the military, which still holds most of the cards; a rash move by Morsi could provide a pretext for the military to crack down further on the fledgling government.

On the surface, however, Morsi seems to have gone out of his way to allay fears that Islamists would radically change Egyptian society. He promptly fulfilled a campaign promise to resign from the Brotherhood and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, and chose a Prime Minister, Hesham Kandil, who is a religious Muslim but known as a technocrat rather than a hard-liner.

Significantly, he has refrained from taking any action on social or foreign policy issues.

The sale and consumption of alcohol remain legal, a concern of the important tourist industry. No one in ruling circles is calling for the government to make wearing head scarves obligatory, ban pop music or review the peace treaty with Israel.

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