Egypt’s new Islamist president was formally sworn into office, vowing to protect the freedom that hundreds died to achieve as he at once praised the military and indirectly challenged them over their limiting of his authority.
In a day steeped in ceremony and symbolism, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi said a new nation of justice and equality had been born from the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak last year.
The 60-year-old U.S.-trained engineer, who had been the Brotherhood’s back-up candidate for the office, became the nation’s first democratically-elected, civilian leader after a 16-month transition process that divided the country and set in motion a power struggle between him and the military leadership that is poised to continue.
“We proceed to a better tomorrow, to a new Egypt, to the second republic,” Mursi said yesterday after being sworn in before the Supreme Constitutional Court. “Today the Egyptian people have laid the foundations for a new life, for absolute freedom, for a real democracy.”
Mursi’s predecessor was the last of four presidents drawn from the ranks of the military. The armed forces assumed power after Mubarak was toppled and the brotherhood became one of the country’s strongest political forces. Its power, however, has rattled secularists who have been concerned about the possible dawn of an Islamist era in a nation whose modern history has been secular.
‘Civil, Modern State’
Those concerns resonated with Mursi, who battled against his presidential rival, former premier Ahmed Shafik, to dispel the notion that he was seeking to impose Islamic law.
“Today, Egypt is a civil, national, constitutional and modern state,” Mursi said after his oath. “And thus, this state is born today as a strong state thanks to its people, its history, the beliefs of its people and its institutions.”
Mursi’s message was one of change and the “continuation of the revolution,” said Omar Ashour, director of Middle East studies at the University of Exeter in the U.K., and a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center. “The message is clear: He wants to take full powers, and he’s defying the dissolution of the parliament and the constitutional declaration.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, a former director of the United Nations nuclear agency whose criticism of Mubarak helped galvanize protesters against the former leader, said Egyptians must reach a consensus on the new constitution, legislative authority and the power of the presidency. “It’s time to build and to achieve the goals of the revolution,” he said on Twitter.
Praise for Military
Yesterday’s ceremony in the court, which sits across from the military hospital where Mubarak was transferred from prison to be treated for deteriorating health, came a day after Mursi took a symbolic oath in Cairo’s Tahrir Square before tens of thousands of supporters.
In three different speeches, Mursi praised the armed forces for standing alongside the Egyptians that drove Mubarak from power.
He also indicated that it was time for the military to relinquish power -- a sentiment echoed by some at the university who at times chanted: “Down, down, with military rule.”
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has kept its promise to not be an alternative to popular will,” Mursi said yesterday before an audience that included military chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, political leaders, departing Cabinet ministers and lawmakers from the dissolved legislature.
“The elected institutions will resume carrying out their role, and the great Egyptian army will go back to focusing on its mission of protecting national security and borders,” he said.
Mursi, in a ceremony held at a base where Islamists referred to military court had been tried during Mubarak’s era, said he accepted the handover of power from Tantawi and the military.
“They are handing over power with satisfaction and content. They are making good on what they have promised God and this people,” he said. “I accept this responsibility to become responsible for them just like I am responsible for all the people of Egypt.”
The comments signaled the opening of a new chapter in the tug-of-war between him and the generals who, hours after polls closed on June 17, issued constitutional addenda that gave them legislative powers and diluted his authority. Tantawi and others in the military council sat largely silent throughout much of his speech, reserving their loudest applause for when he directly saluted the armed forces.
“I would be very surprised if they just give up,” Said Hirsh, Mideast economist at Capital Economics said, referring to the military. In other countries where similar situations emerged, such as Turkey, “the military there spent years trying to come out as the defender of the principles of Turkish governance and these people, as individuals, have a vested interest in keeping things as they are.”
Mursi said yesterday that Egypt’s foreign relations will be determined on the basis of dignity and sovereignty, a theme he repeated in his inaugural speech while vowing to support the Palestinians’ cause. Mursi also said Egypt will honor its existing international commitments, an acknowledgment of the more than 30-year-old peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
“We carry a message of peace to the world. Before it and with it, we carry a message of truth and justice,” he said.