The Muslim Brotherhood’s final rally

I just attended the last campaign rally for Mohammed Morsi, the presidential candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood’s front party, Freedom and Justice, before the first round of presidential elections on May 23-24.

Thousands were packed an outdoor Cairo field, with an open air stage, located near iconic Tahrir Square, and the whole affair provided a glimpse of what Egypt might look like under a President Morsi. Lines of buses on nearby streets attested to the organizing skills of the Brotherhood, which obviously bused in huge numbers of followers from outside Cairo.

Women, nearly all wearing the hijab and long skirts, sat mostly on one side of the aisle, men on the other and an astonishing number of the women wore the full face veil or niqab, which was rarely seen on Cairo streets only a few years ago.  I wondered whether the niqab would soon become commonplace in Cairo if Morsi were the winner.

The warm-up speakers whipped up the crowd with chants and songs, with one declaring “We have already prepared the victory speech.”  One firebreathing blind sheikh from London, Rajab Zaki, declared, “We will not allow anyone to treat us like before or rule us without the Koran.”

But when Morsi came on stage at around 10:30 pm, and started to speak, the energy went out of the rally. I quickly understood why some say his lack of charisma may scare off voters:  he was still droning on, without notes, 50 minutes later, but his speech was so banal and his delivery so boring that his followers started filing out of the rally long before it was finished. What should have been a climactic moment lacked all drama.

The Muslim Brothers’ man may do well in the first round of the presidential  ballot because of his group’s organizational talents, but Morsi’s failure to excite his eager followers raises questions about whether  he can really win.