DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. It has been 18 months since Hosni Mubarak was ousted as the president of Egypt. And this week, Mohammed Morsi, the first freely elected leader of Egypt in modern history, is finishing up his first month as president. Mr. Morsi of the once-repressed Muslim Brotherhood faces a slew of challenges - from dealing with a faltering economy to managing relations with Egypt's powerful military leaders. I'm in the studio with Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who is NPR's outgoing Cairo bureau chief, and Leila Fadel, who will be taking up the reins in Cairo very soon. Hello to you both.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So, Soraya, let's turn to you first. What's your take on President Morsi's first month in his new role?
NELSON: Well, he's certainly not going to meet his deadline of 100 days to fix a myriad of problems, if the first few weeks have been any indication. He's behind in naming his cabinet. He did finally name a prime minister, but it turns out to be someone with very little political experience. So, it's been sort of a mixed bag. He did try to sort of challenge the ruling generals by saying that parliament would reconvene. That also did not work out very well because the court says it is dissolved and you cannot do anything about it. And he did not push back after that, so it became pretty clear that his power is quite limited.
GREENE: Leila, what has been the reaction to the new president among Egyptians so far, would you say?
FADEL: I think most Egyptians have a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to the new president. This is a new time. They've never chosen their leader before and he only had about 12 million votes out of 55 million eligible voters.
GREENE: We often talk about mandates. You know, in this country, it doesn't sound like he came to this office with an overwhelming mandate.
FADEL: Exactly. And so he's got to be conciliatory to the other factions and show himself as a leader of Egypt, rather than just a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist faction that many people are suspicious of, actually.
GREENE: Yeah, I wanted to ask you both about that. I mean, an Islamist leader in Egypt - the world is sort of watching to see what this means. And so Mohammed Morsi met with the leader of Hamas, the group in power in the Gaza Strip. They have links to the Muslim Brotherhood, but Hamas is really considered extremist by the West. Was this meeting significant, Soraya?
NELSON: It certainly shows that Mohammed Morsi will in fact pursue what many Egyptians want to see, which is a change in the relationship with Israel, not necessarily get rid of the treaty. I mean, everyone has made it pretty clear that they would like to continue peaceful relations, but they want to have...
GREENE: The peace treaty is very important, I mean, the fragile relationship between Egypt and Israel that's so important to this part of the world.
NELSON: Right. I mean, as part of fixing security, the last thing you want to do is have an unstable border with your neighbors. I mean, that's not going to work. But they would like to have it be more on their terms, and that would mean pursuing rights for Palestinians. That's something that the Muslim Brotherhood feels very strongly about, Mohammed Morsi has talked about, and so this meeting was significant for that reason.
GREENE: And, Leila, you'll be following this in the months ahead. I mean, has Morsi given any sort of signal for whether he'll maintain this very fragile, but important peaceful relationship with Israel?
FADEL: Well, the Muslim Brotherhood in all their meetings with Western officials have reassured that they don't plan, at least in the short term, to touch that treaty. They talk about how we're not interested in coming to power and going to war. We're interested in coming to power and solving our domestic issues. But that peace treaty also is not domestically popular. So, during the election, you saw a lot of people playing to that sentiment, that they won't be the United States' puppet, that they won't allow for Palestinians to be treated badly, as many Egyptians see it. But Morsi has been very careful to say I favor no one. I will speak to Abess(ph), and I will speak to also - I will speak to the leaders of Hamas. So, it's also, again, a wait and see thing for the West and for Israel to see what he's going to do with the peace treaty, with the border and with his relationship with Hamas.
GREENE: Well, one of the great things about having our foreign correspondents stop by Washington is to be able to step back a little bit. And I guess I'd like to ask both of you before we go what do you see in the next six months? What will you be looking for in this evolution in Egypt? Leila?
FADEL: Well, I think, as we were just talking about, the major issue is to look at whether or not this is actually going to be a flourishing democracy. The only elected person in Egypt right now is Mohammed Morsi. The parliament are gone, and the people that really are running things from behind the scenes are these unelected, aged generals who worked with Mubarak for decades. We'll also want to look at the role of religion going forward. Is this a new and positive role that Islam can play in politics? Is this something that will alienate the West and change the relationships and the long relationships that the United States has had with Egypt? The other things that are important that we don't often talk about is this flourishing of music and culture and freedom of expression and freedom of media and people sort of navigating what they can and can't say, 'cause now they can say much more.
NELSON: There is one other element, I think, that we may see some movement on in the next six months, and that's the constitution. The constitution of Egypt needs to be rewritten to sort of reflect all these changes that are coming about. Currently, the power is supposed to rest with the president and just about only the president. And so there's a lot of debate. And I think what happens with that constitution, whether in fact it's going to be crafted with this body that was elected by the parliament, which is now dissolved, whether that gets thrown out and the generals in fact appoint a constitutional assembly to create a constitution, these will all be indicators of who in fact will be in charge in Egypt in the foreseeable future.
GREENE: All right, we've been talking about Egypt in a real time of transition. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, our outgoing Cairo bureau chief. Always good to see you. Thanks for coming by.
NELSON: Thanks, David.
GREENE: And Leila Fadel, who is our incoming Cairo bureau chief. Leila, welcome to NPR. We're excited to hear from you in Cairo.
FADEL: Thanks so much. I'm excited, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.