More than 2,500 miles east of Los Angeles, Mohamed Morsi is preparing to begin his term as the first Egyptian president since the 2011 revolution. But 30 years ago, Morsi was studying in Los Angeles, preparing to receive a Ph.D. from USC.
Before becoming a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a member of parliament in the People’s Assembly of Egypt and the president-elect, Morsi attended Cairo University, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering. He completed his Ph.D. program in materials science at USC in 1982 and went on to become an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, before heading the engineering department at Egypt’s Zagazig University in 1985.
[Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Mohamed Morsi received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering. It was materials science.]
Dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering Yannis Yortsos said Morsi’s election is a “notable achievement.”
Yortsos did not know Morsi and said his adviser died several years ago. To his knowledge, there are currently no Viterbi faculty members who knew Morsi personally.
Morsi was announced the winner of the election Sunday with 51.7 percent, beating military-supported runner-up Ahmed Shafik. He will be the first president since Hosni Mubarak formally resigned in February 2011 following the protests, which began January 25. Morsi was one of the initial candidates running for the Freedom and Justice Party, a group founded by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“That part of the world is very full of history and full of tension and turmoil,” Yortsos said. “So one hopes that [because] he was educated here in the United States … the American values and ideals will help him promote stability and peace and prosperity for his country.”
Though it is unclear what powers Morsi will have in Egypt’s reforming government, he is calling for unity in Egypt and has been publicly congratulated by the American, Turkish and Palestinian governments, according to Al Jazeera.
“Of the two possible outcomes, I’m glad that it was [Morsi] and not [Shafik],” said Laurie Brand, a professor of international relations specializing in the politics and culture of the Middle East. “But I know there are a lot of Egyptians of good faith who are very worried with the outcome.”
Samer Rashad, a junior majoring in neuroscience, traveled to Egypt in May and June to study the political process and to compare the election to those of America and other countries in the Middle East.
“In Egypt, not many people like Morsi,” he said. “They don’t want Egypt to turn into an Islamic state. They want it to be more like America, in a way, with separation of church and state.”
Rashad stayed with his uncle, Hamdeen Sabahi, a former parliament member and third-place candidate in the election. Rashad said Sabahi was the most moderate of the top three contenders in both religious and political views.
“I was not a fan of either Morsi or Shafik,” Rashad said. “I guess me and my family are not too happy Morsi won.”
Cat Shieh, a junior majoring in political science, spent two weeks in Egypt through Problems without Passports in May and June of 2011, a few months after the Egyptian government fell. Shieh said her experiences and continued interest in Egypt have helped her understand the culture.
“You have to realize the complexities of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Shieh said. “They’re not all extremists.”
Shieh said she cannot predict how the government might evolve but sees potential for democracy and Sharia law to coexist if the complex factors are understood.
“I’m not optimistic, but I’m not pessimistic either,” Shieh said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to see a lot of change now, but he was better educated so who knows. I’m waiting for the next generation.”