Egyptians celebrate as Morsi elected president


WHEN THE Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was yesterday proclaimed Egypt’s first elected civilian president, a great cheer went up from the tens of thousands gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in the streets and squares of other cities and towns.

Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak, was a sea of people crested with red, white and black Egyptian flags. The chanting, dancing, drumming throngs were made up largely of Brotherhood members and puritan salafis, although several liberal and revolutionary groups participated in the four-day protest against the delayed result that became a celebration.

In Nasr City, on the other side of Cairo, several thousand supporters of rival Ahmed Shafik, a former airforce chief and the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak before his fall, dubbed the outcome “null and void” and called on the military to take over.

Mr Shafik was seen by many liberals and Coptic Christian Egyptians as the champion of the “civil” or secular state and the man to reimpose law and order after 15 months of anarchy and political chaos.

Troops and police were deployed at public buildings in case of rioting by supporters of the losing side, while households stocked up on food.

Mr Morsi won 13 million votes, 51.7 per cent of the total; his rival Ahmed Shafik won 12 million, 48.3 per cent. The results were proclaimed by head of the election commission Farouk Sultan after a suspenseful 45-minute examina- tion of the 456 complaints of irregularities submitted by the candidates. More than 800,000 votes were invalidated. Fifty-one per cent of Egypt’s 50 million registered voters took part in last weekend’s run-off.

In an address to the nation from Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, Mr Morsy pledged to be “president of all Egyptians”, called for reconciliation with the army and police, national unity, equality before the law, and promised to respect all international agreements reached by his country, suggesting that the peace treaty with Israel would be honoured.

But he did not give any indications on how he intends to proceed once he is sworn in at the end of this month, giving rise to speculation that the Brotherhood does not have a clear plan.

The presidency is a triumph for the organisation, founded in 1928 and persecuted, prosecuted, and occasionally co-opted by successive governments. Established as an anti-colonial movement during British rule, the Brotherhood created a grassroots network of schools, clinics, and religious outreach groups but was not permitted to participate directly in political life until last year.

Mr Morsi’s success in Egypt’s first free but not completely fair multicandidate presidential poll amounted to repudiation of the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces by more than half of the voters as well as the millions who did not vote. Most participants voted against one candidate or the other, not for them. Many who abstained or spoiled their ballots rejected both Mr Morsi, a largely unknown engineering professor, and Mr Shafik, a feloul or remnant of the old regime.

Revolutionaries are especially wary of the Brotherhood which they accuse of failing to fully back the uprising and of making a power grab by securing control of parliament and the constitutional commission as well as the presidency. The military, determined to deny the Brotherhood power, has disbanded the people’s assembly, asserted the right to veto provisions in the new constitution, retained control of the budget, and suggested that the president’s term could expire once the new constitution is adopted.

President-elect Morsi has resigned from the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and pledged to form a unity government including liberals, Christians, and even women rather than drawing ministers from the Brotherhood.

The party’s deputy leader, Essam el-Erian, denied rumours that Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading secular figure, could be offered the premiership. Mr Erian said consultations with liberals had focused on compelling the military to return to barracks rather than cabinet formation. Mr Erian observed that “an independent figure capable of running the country” could be considered to head the government.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Morsi, a conservative loyalist, will adopt an independent line and carry out his promises or follow the dictates of the Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohamed Badie, a hard-line ideologue.

While there are reports that Brotherhood strongman Khairat Shater met with the military to negotiate what powers the president would enjoy, the movement’s spokesman, Gihad Haddad, indicated that the Brotherhood could opt for confrontation.