CAIRO: Islamist Mohammed Morsi promised a ‘new Egypt’ as he took the oath of office today to become the country’s first freely elected president, succeeding Hosni Mubarak who was ousted 16 months ago.
At his inauguration before the 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 some 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 shown 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 organisation harshly targeted by successive governments. Hundreds of soldiers and policemen guarded the building as Morsi arrived shortly after 11:00am local time (9:00am GMT) 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 centre 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 delivery of a Friday speech that tried to present him as a candidate not just of Islamists but of all those who want to complete the work of the 2011 uprising against the authoritarian Mubarak. “Egypt today is a civil, national, constitutional and modern state,” Morsi, wearing a blue business suit and a red tie, 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 travelled to 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. Military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was in attendance. His arrival was greeted with chants of, ‘army and the people are one hand’.