The Islamists have yet to outmaneuver their most potent obstacle: the country's ruling military council. The Brotherhood has cooperated with the generals, at times holding back its street muscle by boycotting anti-army protests, leading to criticism that it was seeking to advance its political ambition at the expense of the revolution.
But parliament has yet to match the military's power. This has led to acrimony as Islamists have moved to expand their reach in a new constitution and the army has countered to preserve its authority.
"The Brotherhood's leaders are keen on survival," Hadi said. "But it took a while for them to learn that you have to impose your own rules if you want the upper hand. They learned this after being burned by the military. That's why they decided to run their own candidate."
Morsi, who in 1982 received a doctorate in engineering from USC, faces his sharpest challenges from Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, whose progressive strand of Islam led to his expulsion from the Brotherhood last year. Both men are likely to siphon away voters disenchanted with the Brotherhood's recent tactics, including its attempts to control the panel drafting the constitution.
"The concurrent blunders of the Brotherhood have exposed its limited political skills," Khalil Anani, an expert on Islamist groups, wrote in the Egypt Independent newspaper. "Not only have these mistakes distorted the movement's image but, more importantly, it weakened its position in the game with its contenders."
But Hadi believes that despite its setbacks, the Brotherhood represents the stirrings of a political Islam that will ultimately take hold in Egypt and across the region.
"This is the identity of the country," he said. "The West shouldn't clash with this ideal, because this goal will be reached. It's who Egyptians are."
Amro Hassan of The Times' Cairo bureau contributed to this report.