El-Sisi Vows Egyptian Renaissance as Expectations Soar

The former army chief who toppled Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader was sworn in today as president, urging hard work to correct the “mistakes of the past” in a polarized nation struggling with political turmoil and a battered economy.

Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s ascension, after Mohamed Mursi’s ouster last year, brings Egypt full circle back to its decades-old tradition of a president pulled from the military’s ranks. Dubbed a savior by his supporters, and the man who led a military coup and deadly crackdown on Islamists by his critics, El-Sisi crushed his sole rival with 97 percent of the vote.

Turnout of about 47 percent raised questions about whether he won a broad mandate to address the unrest and economic stagnation that have persisted since autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011.

Egypt will undergo a “total renaissance domestically and in the foreign arena to compensate for what we missed and correct the mistakes of the past,” El-Sisi said to an audience of foreign dignitaries including the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been Egypt’s biggest benefactors since Mursi’s ouster in July after days of mass protests, injecting billions of dollars in grants and other aid to support the Arab world’s most populous nation.

The time has come to chart a “new reality” for Egypt that allows its citizens to live better and develop freedoms “in a responsible context,” El-Sisi said.

Heavy Burden

El-Sisi spoke at the presidential palace where Mursi and Mubarak had ruled, hours after he was sworn in at the same hall in the Supreme Constitutional Court where Mursi had also taken the oath of office. The animosity against Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood that fielded him for office was palpable, with one senior justice describing the Islamist’s time in power as a period when one group “tore apart” the nation.

Mursi’s ouster was a result of an uprising “inspired by people tired of the destruction that has befallen them, the injustice they faced,” Maher Sami, deputy head of the court, said in a televised speech. “This was not a military coup.”

El-Sisi’s rise to the presidency was described by the state-run Al-Ahram on its front page as a “New Era.” The banner headline of the independent Al-Watan newspaper read, “Today, El-Sisi Assumes the Heavy Burden.”

Struggling Economy

Egypt’s economy has limped along since Mubarak was deposed in a popular uprising, with its slowest economic growth rate in two decades. Issues seen as catalyzing that revolt, such as unemployment and inflation, have yet to be redressed, and foreign reserves are about half their December 2010 levels.

While millions of Egyptians opposed what they saw as the Muslim Brotherhood’s push to dominate politics under Mursi, the group and others say El-Sisi’s rise and the subsequent bloody crackdown on Islamists has undercut the country’s nascent democratic hopes. Hundreds of Mursi supporters have been killed since his removal, and thousands more were either handed death sentences or face criminal charges.

The Brotherhood, declared a terrorist organization, boycotted the election. El-Sisi’s only competition came from former lawmaker Hamdeen Sabahi, who placed third in the 2012 election against Mursi.

The Brotherhood’s supporters have declared the presidential vote “null and void” and vowed to press on with protests, calling in an e-mailed statement for massive turnouts on July 3, the anniversary of Mursi’s overthrow.

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