It took President Mohammed Mursi no more than two months to offer us a new form of charisma that is entirely different from the one commonly known by Arabs in general and Egyptians in particular. Doing so, he answered back all those who severely attacked him when the Muslim Brotherhood fielded him in the presidential elections as an alternative to its Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat el-Shater. The discourse used was quite inappropriate especially when the media started referring to Mursi as a “spare tire” to reflect his lack of charisma.
We still link the concept of charisma to leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser but nobody knows if this charisma was an inherent part of his character or if the general environment in the 1950s and 1960s helped him acquire it.
In fact, the African and Arab people’s determination to gain their independence played a major role in creating Nasser’s charisma, which later grew stronger with the nationalization of the Suez Canal and the speech he gave at al-Azhar to defy the tripartite aggression. Arab media was not the way it is now for there was only the Sawt al-Arab (Voice of the Arabs) radio station against outlets seen in the Arab world and Africa as mouthpieces of imperialism and Zionism like the BBC Arabic, Sound of America, and Radio Israel.
This in addition to the manner in which security apparatuses, especially intelligence, wielded influence on the people make it hard to believe that Nasser’s charisma was instinctive or real. This does not mean it was false or fabricated, but it was rather the product of a group of factors. Had Nasser lived longer and in different circumstances, this charisma would not have stayed the same.
All Mursi’s detractors accused him of lack of charisma and were surprised that other more charismatic figures in the Muslim Brotherhood like Essam al-Erian were not fielded instead. At the time, I wrote an article comparing Mursi with ex-Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moniem Aboul Fotouh and I expected Mursi to stand a better chance because he was supported by a group that is historically charismatic and that boosts a great deal of expertise in institutional work, both enabling it of gaining the political skills required to deal with a scene rife with fluctuations.
Time has proven this and I was right when I called upon the Muslim Brotherhood to take back its earlier pledge and field a candidate. My argument was not related to drawbacks in the other candidates, but sprang from the fact that none of them was supported by a body as powerful as the Brotherhood which was the only one capable of standing up to a candidate backed by the former regime like Mubarak’s last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.
Shafiq was fully supported by the apparatuses of the deep state and hefty amounts of money were allotted to his campaign. As for former Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, he was only a means of temporarily diverting attention from Shafiq’s candidacy.
Had it not been for a Brotherhood candidate, Shafiq would have never been defeated and let us not be fooled by the phenomenon of candidate Hamdeen Sabahi for we might some time soon know that there is a story behind it that is different from the one currently known to people.
The development Mursi has undergone, which reached its peak with his speech in Tahrir Square last Friday, offered a new kind of charisma that we can call “square charisma.” This charisma is not related to the leader’s personal traits as is known in political science. Mursi’s charisma is inspired by the power he gets from the square. Every time people cheered for him, he got more enthusiastic and at one point he walked away from his guards and unbuttoned his jacket to show everyone that he was not wearing a bullet proof vest, saying that he “fears nothing.”
This energy given to Mursi by Tahrir Square made up for his lack of personal charisma on which his opponents were solely focusing.
The writer is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya Arabic. This article was first published in al-Gomhuria on July 2, 2012 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid