By Sami Moubayed
The last thing Arab seculars wanted was an Islamist being elected as president of Egypt. Having said that, Mohammad Morsi's victory is a glorious day in Arab history - a benchmark for Arab democracy - that ought to be appreciated and respected, regardless of what one thinks of the Muslim Brotherhood that brought him to power.
After almost 80 years spent in the underground, the Egyptian Brotherhood finally has been given rightful turn at the Egyptian presidency. They achieved this through the ballot box, rather than via a military coup, the route for all the officers who had ruled Egypt since 1952.
Seculars are furious, however, arguing that the Brotherhood is as autocratic as deposed president Hosni Mubarak because their charter will be the Holy Koran, rather than the Egyptian constitution that is yet to be authored.
This is nonsense to those who have faith in Egyptian institutions and the judiciary. Some, however, are arguing that this day marks the start of the Brotherhood's long march into history, as it will walk a path taken before it by revolutionary parties that performed exceptionally well when serving in the Arab underground, but faltered the minute they came to power.
The case of the Iraqi and Syrian Ba'ath parties are prime examples, and so are Fatah and Hamas in Palestine. Catchy slogans from the streets of Cairo and pointing to stories of agony in Mubarak's jails are one thing, but running a state is completely different.
Having battled the autocracy of King Farouk, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat, and Mubarak, the Brotherhood's new battle will be protecting its members from the temptations of corruption, greed, nepotism, and embezzlement that come with the reins of power in the Arab World.
What makes it more difficult is the Arab Spring, though this paved the way for Morsi's rise to the Presidential Palace. The Egyptian youth are on high alert and ready - when the need may come - to take to the streets again, and again, and again, should Morsi transform into another Mubarak. They did it once in February 2011, and can do it again should Morsi fail to deliver. In the hands of Egyptian youth, Egypt's future remains safe.
For starters, the new president-elect cannot rule Egypt in a similar fashion to Mubarak. Nobody can anymore. He won't be able to feed off the country's riches, nor can he groom his sons for power. Gone are the days of family rule and dictatorship. Certainly, he won't be staying around for the next 30 years.
Morsi will get two terms - at best - at the Presidential Palace. There is no more "president for life" in the Arab world; that is a fact.
It is already being said that the new president will pack his administration with non-Brotherhood politicians, and make Mohamed ElBaradei the next prime minister. Morsi needs to sit back and recall the long list of wrongs committed by Hamas, Fatah, and the Ba'ath, to avoid repeating their failures.
First and foremost, he needs to come across as a statesman of international caliber, rather than a bearded Islamic leader feared by the entire world. He needs to have an open mind, embracing Egyptian Copts, for example, and accepting the Egyptian Camp David Accords with Israel as a fact - unless he can get legislative backing for its amendment, or abolishment.
The Brotherhood still views Israel as "an enemy" and is ideologically, politically and emotionally attached to resistance groups in Palestine, like Hamas. If the Camp David Accords are unilaterally abolished, or modified, the United States would surely freeze its annual US$2.1 billion in military and development aid to Egypt, which Washington has steadily provided since 1982.
Although the Brotherhood has said it would uphold cordial relations with the US, the group remains staunchly anti-American, despite the fact that Morsi was educated at the University of Southern California and that his children are US citizens. The Brotherhood victory, in theory, spells out a u-turn for Egypt's foreign policy, similar to the dramatic changes undergone by Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that severed relations with Israel and the US.
If Morsi abides by ideology, rather than pragmatism, then alarm bells will ring for the future of Egypt. This would mean a compulsory hijab for women, for example, a major slump in tourism, and zero innovation or courage in Egypt's ever-booming artistic scene.
However, such moves would likely be too difficult for the new president of Egypt, as he will face strong challenges from parliament, the military council, and the powerful judiciary. If he does try to break with his conservatism, which will be difficult, then the Muslim Brotherhood, as we knew it, is finished.
Hamas, the world remembers only too well, was bent on destroying the state of Israel, not too long ago. Its bearded leaders appeared wearing Islamic uniforms, quoting battles from Muslim history, and praising figures like Osama bin Laden.
When Hamas realized that such rhetoric will not pass in the international community, and scored poorly with ordinary Palestinians, it quickly began to change colors. In 2007, for example, Ismail Haniya said that he was willing to start peace talks with Israel, based on the 1967 borders of Palestine, and not to obstruct the 2002 Arab League Peace Plan.
Gone was the rhetoric that refused to accept anything short of the 1948 borders of Palestine. Sooner or later, the Egyptian Brotherhood will come to that hard reality. When that happens, they will have to market themselves as moderate Islamists, like the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, regardless if they really believe in that moderation or not.
The Brotherhood needs to invest in an unspoken truth - that the US and other international players realize that seculars in the Arab world can no longer deliver; neither on nation-building nor on peace. If the world wants the Arab world to move forward, it has to do so while engaging, rather than shunning, Islamic parties like the Brotherhood and Hamas.
The more these parties are engaged with respect and confidence, the more they will transform into Erdogan-like politicians, rather than Bin Ladens. Barack Obama judges leaders by what they are worth, and how beneficial they are to world progress and regional development. Morsi needs to prove that he is an asset to the Arab world, rather than a liability, and the entire world needs to give him the benefit of the doubt and respect the will of Egyptian people.
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian university professor and historian. This article appeared in Asia Times on June 25, 2012.