The reference was to Mohammed Badie, the so-called “Supreme Guide” of the Muslim Brotherhood, the spiritual leader of the powerful if insular Islamist organization that is the dominant political force in post-revolutionary Egypt.
In the nearly two years since the popular uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians have rallied against what they have seen as a succession of threats to their revolution. But with the Brotherhood consolidating its power for the long term — electing one of its own as Egypt’s president and approving a new constitution that opens the door to an Islamist state — Badie may be the most lasting symbol of the polarized nation Egypt has become.
To the Brotherhood, the man known as “el Morshed,” Arabic for “the Guide,” is simply the modest and devout spiritual leader of millions of members who feel free at last to express their conservative religious identity and exert political power. The Brotherhood, whose credo is “Islam is the solution,” was banned for decades for being an alleged threat to the state.
“Badie is a very quiet man who can repeat the verses of the Koran by heart,” said Essam el-Erian, a Morsi adviser and Brotherhood party official who scoffed at the idea that Badie somehow directs Morsi’s decisions. “If you saw him in the streets, you could not distinguish him.”
To many seculars, Christians and moderate Muslims, however, Badie is the dark prince of a coming Islamist tyranny, the symbol of their worst fears and most far-flung conspiracy theories about how the Brotherhood operates. During street protests, it is common to see images of Badie, who usually wears a suit and wire-rim glasses, depicted as an Iranian ayatollah or as Satan. A popular YouTube video casts him as Marlon Brando’s don in “The Godfather.”
“The Guide is the true ruler of Egypt,” said Radwa Badawi, 59, among the protesters one recent night who described what they believe are Badie-led plots to bring militias from Gaza or establish an Islamist caliphate across the Middle East and North Africa. “Morsi, the president, has nothing to do with any of it. He just executes the orders of the Guide. ”
The reality of Badie’s influence is more complicated and difficult to know. According to analysts, he is a relatively uncharismatic figure who was chosen for the top position in 2010 partly for that reason: Over the years, he distinguished himself by being indistinguishable from more powerful members of the Brotherhood.
“He is easy to control, and ideologically and intellectually, he is in harmony with the Guidance group,” said Ashraf el-Sherif, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, referring to the powerful 19-member body that sets policy and has supplied key officials in Morsi’s cabinet. “Badie is in the position first and foremost because they trusted that he is ‘one of us.’ ”