Egypt’s Islamist President Mursi to begin consultations on new administration

| June 25, 2012 | Comments (0)
Celebration in Egypt as Mursi wins

Celebration in Egypt as Mursi wins

Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood sets about building a civilian administration for Egypt on Monday that can heal a divisive history of oppression and coax a mistrustful army into relaxing its grip on power.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri is scheduled to meet on Monday to submit its resignation to Mursi, who would in his turn request it to continue until a new government is formed.

The president appoints and dismisses the ministers and their assistants, according to the Constitutional Declaration.

Mursi will start consultations for the formation of his presidential guard and deputies, as well as the government, which he said would not be limited to the Brotherhood’s political wing Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), but would include the other political parties and forces, Egypt’s daily al-Masry al-Youm reported.

The Brotherhood has, movement officials said, approached secular reformist politician Mohammed ElBaradei, a former U.N. diplomat and Nobel peace laureate, to take a senior post, possibly as prime minister. ElBaradei has not commented.

Behind the scenes, talks were already under way between the Islamists and generals to resolve disputes that blew up this month over steps by the ruling military council to hem in the powers of the first freely elected president Egypt has known.

Cairo’s Tahrir Square, theatre of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, exploded in joy — and relief — on Sunday as Mursi was declared the narrow but convincing winner of last weekend’s presidential run-off against Ahmed Shafiq, another scion of the military establishment which has ruled Egypt for 60 years.

The celebrations continued through an unforgettable night after Mursi won by 3.5 percentage points or some 880,000 votes.

Those in Egypt and beyond who feared a win for Shafiq might have spelled the end of the Arab Spring acknowledged a triumph for the popular will, and for the army which accepted it. From Syria’s opposition came word that Cairo was again a “source of hope” for a people “facing a repressive war of annihilation,” according to Reuters.

But beyond the vast throng who waved their flags and chanted praises to God for hours on end on Tahrir Square, millions of Egyptians, and the Western powers, looked on with unease at the prospect of the long-suppressed Brotherhood making good on its dream of an Islamic state for the Arab world’s biggest nation.

Among the most anxious were the young, urban revolutionaries who launched last year’s uprising but saw their representatives knocked out in last month’s first round vote, as well as diehard supporters of the old regime who fear for their privileges. Some Shafiq admirers wept in fury that the army had “betrayed” them.

President for all Egyptians

Mursi, a 60-year-old engineer who studied in California and was jailed for his politics by Mubarak’s secret police, took his first steps in public to quell some fears: “I am today a president for all Egyptians,” he said in an address after what he called “this historic moment, this luminous moment.”

He repeated his respect for international treaties — a gesture to Israel, which has fretted about its 1979 peace deal, and to Egypt’s army, whose big U.S. subsidy depends on it.

Barack Obama called him. “The president underscored that the United States will continue to support Egypt’s transition to democracy and stand by the Egyptian people as they fulfill the promise of their revolution,” the White House said.

The Brotherhood, conscious of playing a long game, was ready to play its part in a transition. But cooperation frayed when the Islamists made a push for more control. They secured the lion’s share in a parliament elected in January and, with the influence that offered over drafting a constitution, plus the presidency, would have been very much in the driving seat.

That was clearly too much for Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. With the help of a Mubarak-era judiciary, SCAF dissolved parliament on the eve of the presidential election and then gave itself the legislative power, adding also a potential role in forming a panel to write the constitution. It also revived some powers for martial law.

Critics at home and in the West called it a “soft coup.”

Being sworn in before the parliament

Senior Brotherhood officials say they have been negotiating in the past week to change some of that. Though both sides deny that any deal was struck over the result of the presidential vote itself, Mursi’s election now sets a key reference point around which a power-sharing compromise can be built while the process of constructing a constitutional democracy goes on.

“President Mursi and his team have been in talks with the military council to bring back the democratically elected parliament and other issues,” Essam Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, told Reuters on Monday.

Brotherhood sources told Reuters they hoped the army might allow a partial recall of parliament and other concessions in return for Mursi exercising his powers to name a government and presidential administration in ways the army approves of — notably by extending appointments across the political spectrum.

Military officials have confirmed discussions in the past few days but had no immediate comment on the latest talks.

Saad al-Husseini, a leading figure in the Brotherhood’s FJP, told Egypt’s state-owned daily al-Ahram that Mursi would not give up being sworn in before the Parliament. He said that the result of the election has reflected the will of the people and their aspirations for change and democracy, which was consolidated by the fair Egyptian judiciary.

Brotherhood officials have said they will press on with street protests to pressure the army but this, along with a number of other contentious issues including to whom and where Mursi swears his oath of office, could be settled soon.

The army wants Mursi sworn in on June 30, meeting a deadline it set itself for handing over Egypt to “civilian rule.”

Evading fraught issues

Mursi, who evaded questions during his campaign on such fraught issues as dress codes on Egypt’s profitable tourist beaches, peppered his address with religious language as he spoke from a lectern blazoned with the presidential seal — a jarring mix of sights and sounds for the vast majority Egypt’s 82 million people who can remember no president but Mubarak.

He has promised a moderate “Islamic renaissance” for an Egypt mired in economic crisis. Supporters cite the example of Turkey, where the party now led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan slowly eroded the army’s resistance to pious politicians and the Muslim country has emerged as a political and economic force.

But Mursi, and the party grandees behind him, are aware that without cooperation from both the army, and the wider “deep state” of business and institutional vested interests built up under military rule, the Brotherhood risks accepting a poisoned chalice, enjoying the outward trappings of power but taking all the blame when life does not improve as fast as people hope.

Calling it a “milestone in their transition to democracy,” the United States, the army’s key sponsor and also long wary of the rise of political Islam, joined other Western powers earlier Sunday in congratulating Mursi and calling on him to form a government of national unity that would respect all Egyptians’ civil rights, notably those of women and the 10-percent Christian minority.

The White House said: “It is important for President-elect Mursi to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government.”

The British and French governments echoed that sentiment.

Reactions of Israel and Iran

Israel is at war with the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot Hamas, which celebrated Mursi’s win in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “respected” the result and expected to continue cooperation under the peace treaty.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry congratulated Egyptians over the victory of Mursi in the country’s first free presidential election and said the country was in the final stages of an “Islamic Awakening,” the daily al-Masry al-Youm reported.

“The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran congratulates the victory of the Egyptian nation in these elections and the presidency of Doctor Mohammed Mursi,” it said in a statement on the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).

“The revolutionary movement of the Egyptian people … is in its final stages of the Islamic Awakening and a new era of change in the Middle East.”

“The historic Egyptian nation, with their responsible participation in the momentous election have again proved their determination to realize the noble and justice-seeking ideals of the great revolution of Egypt with a splendid vision of democracy,” the ministry said.

Egyptian Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zuwail congratulated Mursi for his victory on his Twitter account and thanked Shafiq for taking part in building democracy in Egypt, Al Arabiya reported.

Half of those who voted in last month’s first round of the election backed neither Mursi nor Shafiq and many who voted in the run-off voted negatively — either against Mursi’s religious agenda or against Shafiq as a symbol of military rule.

Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister, offered his congratulations and said he was willing to serve in Mursi’s administration if asked.

The interim head of the Coptic Church, many of whose faithful have feared the rise of Islamists, also congratulated Mursi, according to AFP.

U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon called on him to build strong, independent institutions and develop democracy and the European Union called on him to reach out to all other political and social groups.

Morsi won with 13,230,131 votes to Shafiq’s 12,347,380. The election, in which more than 50 million voters were eligible to cast their ballot, saw a 51.8 percent turnout.

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