Islamist Mohammed Morsi promised a “new Egypt” as he took the oath of office yesterday to become the country’s first freely elected president, succeeding former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak who was ousted 16 months ago.
At his inauguration before the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, Morsi also became the Arab world’s first freely elected Islamist president and Egypt’s fifth head of state since the overthrow of the monarchy about 60 years ago.
He took the oath before the court’s 18 black-robed judges in its Nile-side seat built to resemble an ancient Egyptian temple.
“We aspire to a better tomorrow, a new Egypt and a second republic,” Morsi said during a solemn ceremony broadcast live on state television.
“Today, the Egyptian people laid the foundation of a new life — absolute freedom, a genuine democracy and stability,” said Morsi, a 60-year-old US-trained engineer from the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that has spent most of the 84 years since its inception as an outlawed organization targeted by successive governments.
Hundreds of soldiers and policemen guarded the building as Morsi arrived shortly after 11am in a small motorcade. Only several hundred supporters gathered outside the court to cheer the new president and, in a departure from the presidential pomp of the Mubarak years, traffic was only briefly halted to allow his motorcade through on the usually busy road linking the city center with its southern suburbs.
Morsi’s inauguration signals a personal triumph. He was not the Brotherhood’s first choice as president and was thrown into the presidential race when the group’s original candidate, chief strategist and financier Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified over a Mubarak-era criminal conviction.
Derided as the Brotherhood’s uncharismatic “spare tire,” his personal prestige has surged since his victory and his speech on Friday that tried to present him as a candidate not just of Islamists, but of all those who want to complete the work of the last year’s uprising against the authoritarian Mubarak.
“Egypt today is a civil, national, constitutional and modern state,” Morsi told the judges in the wood-paneled chamber where he took the oath of office. “It is a strong nation because of its people and the beliefs of its sons and its institutions.”
Morsi later visited Cairo University where he was to make his inauguration address. He was given an official welcome by an army band that played the national anthem as he stood to -attention. Commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was in attendance. His arrival was greeted with chants of, “the army and the people are one hand,” from the hundreds gathered in the university’s main lecture room.
A handover ceremony hosted by the military generals who ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster follows.
Morsi took a symbolic oath on Friday in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule last year and vowed to reclaim presidential powers stripped from his office by the military council that took over from the ousted leader.
However, by agreeing to take the official oath before the court, rather than before parliament as is customary, he was bowing to the military’s will, in an indication that the contest for power is likely to continue.