CAIRO: Islamist Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president whose powers have been curbed by the military, toured his palatial new residence — where ousted leader Hosni Mubarak once lived — and began work today to form a coalition government.
Declared winner on Sunday a week after a nail-biting run-off vote that pitted him against an ex-military officer, the Islamist faces the challenge of meeting sky-high expectations in a nation tired of turmoil while the economy is on the ropes. But his campaign pledge to complete the revolution that toppled Mubarak last year but left the pillars of his rule intact will come up against the entrenched interests of the generals who have been in charge of the transition to democracy.
Shortly before the presidential vote, the newly elected Islamist-led parliament was dissolved by the army based on a court order and the generals issued a decree putting limits on the president’s remit, which cuts into Mursi’s powers to act, but exposing him to blame for any failures.
Further afield, his win has had an immediate impact beyond Egypt’s borders, inspiring Islamists who have risen up against autocrats across the Middle East and swept to power in North Africa. Israel worries its peace deal with Egypt, never warm, will cool further. Palestinians in Gaza, however, are delighted.
Iran saw his election as an ‘Islamic awakening’ — though Tehran and the Muslim Brotherhood follow different, often opposed forms of the faith. Its Fars news agency published an interview in which Mursi called for restoring severed ties to build strategic ‘balance’. A Mursi aide said he gave the interview 10 days ago. A security official said Mursi and his wife took a tour of their new home, once Mubarak’s main residence — a dramatic change of fortunes for a former political prisoner whose group was pursued remorselessly during Mubarak’s 30-year rule. An aide said Mursi then went to the Defence Ministry for talks with the head of the military council Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the army-appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri.
Key events in modern history
• Egypt was a monarchy until a 1952 military coup
• First four presidents came from the military: Mohammed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. His vice president, Hosni Mubarak, assumed power.
• Mubarak ruled for nearly 30 years, imprisoning many Muslim Brotherhood members while allowing others to run in parliamentary elections
• Thousands of people were tortured and some died in the country’s notorious prisons during Mubarak’s rule
• Corruption, poverty and curbs on freedoms sparked the January 25, 2011 uprising
• Nearly 900 deaths and 18 days later, Mubarak was forced to step down, and his longtime Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, heading a council of generals, assumed power