I met Morsi again, a year later in May 2011, at the Brotherhood's new, plush headquarters in Muqattam, nestled on a small mountain on Cairo's outskirts. The Brotherhood leader seemed surprisingly calm. He punctuated his Arabic with English expressions; he made jokes (they weren't necessarily funny), name-checked the 1978 film The Deer Hunter, and even did an impromptu impression of a former U.S. president. In the early days, in the afterglow of the 18-day uprising, the group's leaders were still careful to say the right things. He was quick to point out that 2,500 of the FJP's 9,000 founding members were not from the Brotherhood, and included Christians.
He was also dismissive of ultraconservative Salafi movements. They weren't politically mature yet, he said. The implication was obvious: The Brotherhood, unlike the Salafists, had spent decades first learning and then playing -- rather skillfully at times -- the game of politics. They learned how and when to compromise and how to justify it to their conservative base. Now, nearly 28 years after first entering parliament in 1984, the group was taking pains to present itself as the moderate, respectable face of political Islam.
But the Brotherhood soon realized that it had stumbled upon one of those rare moments where a country's politics are truly open and undefined. So they decided to seize it, alienating many of their erstwhile liberal allies in the process. This approach was a good fit with the Brotherhood's distinctly majoritarian approach to democracy: They had won a decisive popular mandate in the parliamentary elections, with 47 percent of the vote, so why shouldn't they rule?
Eventually, the Brotherhood decided to go for broke. "We have witnessed obstacles standing in the way of parliament to take decisions to achieve the demands of the revolution," Morsi said in March. "We have therefore chosen the path of the presidency not because we are greedy for power but because we have a majority in parliament which is unable to fulfill its duties."
The more important question is: Does it really matter what Morsi thinks? The Brotherhood's presidential campaign was never about Morsi. It was about the Brotherhood, and Morsi just happened to be the substitute candidate -- an unlikely accident of history -- after the charismatic Shater was disqualified from the race. This is what makes it difficult to assess a Morsi presidency. Over the past year, Shater's personal office has become the address for a steady stream of big-shot investors and visiting dignitaries, including senior U.S. officials. Those who have met him have come out both impressed and reassured.
It was Shater who plucked Morsi from relative obscurity to join the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau, the organization's top decision-making body, and then selected him to lead the Brotherhood's political arm. Up until now, there has been little daylight between the two men. But will Shater be able to maintain his sway if Morsi ascends to Egypt's highest office? Some Brotherhood members are already chafing at the idea of Shater -- whom supporters and detractors alike portray as a brilliant but domineering operative -- serving as the power behind the throne: "If Morsi is able to free himself from the shadow of Shater, his policies will be balanced. If Shater stays in control, Morsi will become increasingly unpopular and fail to govern effectively," one Brotherhood member who has worked with both figures told me. "Will Morsi become the son who surpassed the father?"
On the campaign trail, Morsi has proved a quick study and a hard worker. Campaign aides have worked to repackage him, coaching him on his speaking style and how to use his hands in interviews. In the process, the candidate has grown more confident -- and it's starting to show. His May 30 appearance on Yosri Fouda's television program showed a surprisingly fluent speaker, a far cry from his earlier, shaky media appearances. As one Brotherhood member remarked, "The new Morsi of today is different from the person I knew."
Although Morsi outperformed most polls in coming out on top in the first round of elections, for the Brotherhood, his 25 percent share of the vote amounted to something of a shock. The group's internal projections, based on polling conducted weeks before the vote, saw Morsi with a commanding lead -- it was only a question of how close he would get to 50 percent. Morsi's lack of charisma -- as well as the lack of respect he commands among non-Islamists -- was part of the reason for his disappointing showing. But it was also the result of a series of more serious mistakes and miscalculations. Brotherhood officials had become detached from the changing tenor in the group's former strongholds in the Nile Delta, where the Brotherhood was overtaken by Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister. The Islamist-dominated parliament had failed to pass the sweeping reform legislation that many had expected. Most controversial was an attempt to stack the constituent assembly with Brotherhood supporters, a classic case of political overreach.
After the revolution, the Brotherhood -- like so many other political forces in Egypt's toxic political scene -- became consumed by paranoia, fearing that some combination of liberals, leftists, and old regime elements were out to get them. A democratic opening, as welcome as it was, came with its own risks. The rise of Brotherhood defector Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as a viable candidate was seen as an unprecedented threat to organizational unity and discipline.