Egypt’s first freely elected president will take office in an inauguration ceremony at the country’s constitutional court, a day after swearing a symbolic oath before his supporters in an indirect challenge to the ruling generals who curbed his authority.
In his first public speech since being declared winner in the runoff race this month, Mohamed Mursi said yesterday he feared “no one but God,” and stressed that the people are “the source of legitimacy.” Addressing tens of thousands of his backers, Mursi also pledged to free protesters detained following the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, and also Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric imprisoned in the U.S. for plotting to attack landmarks there.
The speech by the country’s first civilian president, who was also drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, suggested a tone of potential defiance for the coming period, setting the stage for a continued tug-of-war with the military council at a time when the country’s tumultuous post-Mubarak transition passes a new milestone with his inauguration today.
“I came before you today to reaffirm that the people are the source of all authority and are above any authority or institution in this country,” Mursi said yesterday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of last year’s uprising.
He was to swear the oath before the constitutional court at 11 a.m., standing before the same judicial body that ordered the disbanding of the Islamist-dominated parliament earlier this month. The 60-year-old U.S.-trained engineer was then to deliver a speech to the nation from Cairo University.
The debate over where Mursi would be sworn in to office symbolized how much remains undecided in post-Mubarak Egypt. The decision to take the oath before the court was a defeat for the Brotherhood, which argued he should be sworn in before the elected parliament. The assembly was ordered dissolved by the military council in line with a constitutional court ruling earlier this month.
Mursi’s appearance yesterday in Tahrir, where he was flanked by guards whom he pushed away at the end of his speech, refocused the question of whether the coming period would be one of stability or continued tension that the country can ill afford with its economy battered since Mubarak was toppled.
“Despite his degree in rocket science, Mursi is essentially representative of the masses in Egypt, with a humble upbringing forming and informing his world view,” Emad Mostaque, a U.K.-based analyst at emerging markets investment adviser Religare Hitchens Harrison, said in an e-mailed note. “This is something that is particularly tricky for younger Egyptians and the elite to understand, and he is similar to President Ahmedinejad in this regard, minus the ‘end of days’- crazy rhetoric.”
Mursi’s background, as a member of the long-suppressed Brotherhood, marks him out from his predecessors, all military men. So does his route to the job via a free election in which he defeated Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and premier in the last days before Mubarak’s ouster in a popular revolt in February last year.
The Islamist, looking to allay concerns that he will promote the Brotherhood’s interests, has cast himself as the candidate of the revolution -- a characterization he repeated in his speech yesterday. He said he was addressing all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, as well as Arabs around the region.
“I appear before you without a bulletproof vest,” he said, adding he felt safe among Egyptians. “Resilient revolutionary men and women, boys and girls, I am one of you. I always was and always will be.”
Mursi swore a symbolic oath of office, pledged to build a constitutional, civil and modern state and alleviate the suffering of all Egyptians. The emphasis on a civil state reflected the concerns of Christians and secularists that he would push a strict Islamist agenda that could curtail the rights of some.
Those who supported his election and those who didn’t will be treated equally, he told the crowd, promising to respect the constitution and eliminate corruption and injustice. He also remembered martyrs who “made great sacrifices” for freedom and warned that Egypt will respond to any aggression against it.
The president-elect sent a clear message to the military, saying he won’t compromise or forsake any of his rights as the country’s leader. Egypt’s foreign relations will be determined on the basis of dignity and sovereignty, he said, adding that Egypt will not be the aggressor though it stood ready to defend itself against any enemy.
The mass rally in Tahrir was a continuation of a sit-in led by the Brotherhood in which protesters are demanding a reversal of the dissolution of parliament and the decree expanding the military council’s powers.
Mursi faces a challenge in winning over a public that has been polarized by more than a year of tussles between the generals, Islamist politicians led by the Brotherhood, and the largely secular activists who led the uprising.
He and the Brotherhood know “they can’t run the country on their own. They don’t have the support of everybody, and clearly there are other political forces,” Said Hirsh, Mideast economist with Capital Economics, said. “It’s not the time in Egypt to ignore that.”