Egypt leader-in-waiting begins talks on team

ON THE JOB::A powerless Mohammed Morsi’s priority is to stabilize the political scene in the wake of tense elections and the powerful military, a campaigner said

AP, CAIRO

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - Page 1

Egyptian president-elect Mohammed Morsi moved into the office once occupied by former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and started consultations yesterday on forming his team and a new government, an aide said.

Morsi was on Sunday declared the winner of Egypt’s first free presidential election in its modern history, following a tight race with Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

The campaign had deeply polarized the country, pitting a former regime official and former military man — feared to be a continuation of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, but viewed by some as an agent of stability — against an Islamist. Many supported Morsi as a representative of the uprising that toppled the old regime and a chance to challenge the military, but Morsi was equally feared among youth groups behind the uprising, which campaigned for a secular democratic state, and among many of the country’s Christian minority.

Almost half of the voters boycotted the runoff vote.

The victory of Morsi, the first civilian to take over the country’s top job, is a stunning achievement for the Islamist group that remained for most of its eight decades a shadowy organization targeted by successive regimes.

He pledged he would be a “president for all Egyptians.”

Now, Morsi faces a daunting struggle for power with the country’s still-dominant military rulers who took over after Mubarak’s ouster in the uprising. Just days before a winner was announced, the ruling generals made a series of decisions that gave them sweeping powers, undercutting the authorities of the president, including passing the state budget — and granted military police broad powers to detain civilians.

The generals, who promised to transfer power to an elected leader by next Sunday, say the moves were designed to fill a power vacuum and to ensure that no one person monopolizes decisionmaking until a new constitution is drafted. Two days before the runoff, a decision by a top Egyptian court packed with former regime appointees also dissolved the country’s first freely elected parliament, dominated by Islamists, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. This left the military council also in charge of legislating duties.

With the parliament dissolved, it is not clear where Morsi will be sworn in. Authorities say he could be sworn before the country’s highest court, but his group and supporters are pressing for the parliament to be reinstated, saying that the court decision only disputed a third of the house’s seats.

Thousands of Morsi supporters, backed by some liberal and secular youth groups who were behind the uprising, vowed to press on with their protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to pressure the ruling generals to rescind their decrees and reinstate the parliament. Tens of thousands had spent the night in Tahrir in joyous celebration of Morsi’s win.

By yesterday morning, few had stayed in the square, which after nearly a week of a sit-ins, was reopened for traffic, but a protesters’ tent camp remained in place. Brotherhood officials said the protests would continue until the military responded to their demands.

On Sunday, US President Barack Obama telephoned the US-educated Morsi to congratulate him on his victory and offer continued support for Egypt’s transition to democracy.

The White House said Morsi expressed appreciation for Obama’s call and “welcomed US support for Egypt’s transition.”

Yasser Ali, presidential campaign spokesman for Morsi, said the 60-year-old leader-in-waiting arrived at the presidential office yesterday for official meetings and consultations. He said his priority was to form a working presidential team until he finished consultation over nominating vice presidents.

“His priority is the stability on the political scene,” Ali said.

In an effort to rally support and heal national divisions, Morsi vowed to appoint diverse deputies, including a woman and a Christian. He also has reached out to other presidential hopefuls, who garnered popular support in the first round of elections.

Ali said there were also consultations to form a national coalition government. The military-backed government was expected to resign later yesterday, according to legal tradition after a new president is announced.

Ali said he anticipated the government, headed by Kamal el-Ganzouri, would remain in a caretaker role because forming a new one “will take time.”

Morsi faces enormous challenges of improving the economy and maintaining law and order — both of which deteriorated in the post-Mubarak period. He has also promised he would nominate a non-Brotherhood member to head the government.