Election gives Islamists unsettled win in Egypt
Egyptians celebrate the victory of Mohammed Morsi in the country's presidential election on Sunday in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
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CAIRO -- Egypt's military rulers on Sunday officially recognized Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as the winner of Egypt's first competitive presidential election, handing the Islamists both a symbolic triumph and a potent weapon in their struggle for power against the country's senior generals.
Mr. Morsi, 60, an American-trained engineer and former lawmaker, now stands ready to become the first non-military figure to lead Egypt in generations. But 16 months after the military took over at the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi's victory is an ambiguous milestone in Egypt's promised transition to democracy.
After a week of doubt, delays and fears of a coup since a public ballot count showed Mr. Morsi ahead, the generals have shown a measure of respect for at least some core elements of electoral democracy -- they have accepted a political opponent over their ally, former General Ahmed Shafiq, after a vote that international monitors said was credible.
But Mr. Morsi's recognition as president does little to resolve the larger standoff between the generals and the Brotherhood over the institutions of government and the future constitution. With just one week to go until their promised exit from power by June 30, the generals instead shut down the democratically elected and Islamist-led Parliament; took over its powers to make laws and set budgets; decreed an interim constitution stripping the new president of most of his power; and re-imposed martial law by authorizing soldiers to arrest civilians. And the generals gave themselves an effective veto over provisions of a planned permanent constitution as well.
As recently as Sunday morning the capital was tense with fears that the panel of Mubarak-appointed judges overseeing the vote would declare Gen. Shafiq president, completing a full military coup. Banks, schools and government offices closed early for fear of violence in the streets.
Tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters and allies against military rule had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square for the sixth day of a sit-in demanding the military roll back its power grab. The throngs hushed as transistor radios in the square began broadcasting the election commissioner's rambling speech to introduce the official results.
Then came the moment. The square erupted as the numbers came through: Mr. Morsi had won 51.7 percent of the runoff vote.
"Morsi, Morsi!," the crowd chanted. "Down, down with military rule!" Small fireworks went off over the crowd, beaming Brotherhood supporters streamed in, swelling the crowd to perhaps 100,000 by nightfall. In a carnival atmosphere, vendors hawked cotton candy or threw pieces of fruit into the laughing crowd.
After 84 years as an often outlawed secret society struggling in the prisons and shadows of monarchs and dictators, the Brotherhood is now closer than ever to its stated goal of building an Islamist democracy in Egypt.
"In my dreams I wanted this to happen, but it is unbelievable," said Hudaida Hassan, a 20-year-old from Menoufiya.
Even in a victorious moment, however, the Brotherhood's leadership acknowledged that the struggle was far from over: leaders immediately pledged to continue the sit-in, fighting on in the courts and in the streets to restore the Parliament. And in his first statement as president-elect, Mr. Morsi vowed to take his oath of office before the seated Parliament and not before the Supreme Constitutional Court as the generals have decreed.
Fulfilling a campaign pledge to represent all Egyptians, Mr. Morsi resigned from the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. As the Brotherhood has reached out to rebuild alliances with liberal and other secular activists for its contest with the generals, Mr. Morsi has pledged to name a prime minister and other top officials from outside the Brotherhood as part of a unity government.
At the same time, however, Mr. Morsi has campaigned not as an individual with a vision of his own but rather as an executor of the Brotherhood's platform. He was the group's second choice as nominee, put forward after the Brotherhood's chief strategist and most influential leader, Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified. Mr. Morsi has vowed to carry out the program that Mr. el-Shater spent more than a year devising to reform and remake Egypt's government ministries.
Even after the two-month presidential campaign, Mr. Morsi remains an unfamiliar figure to most Egyptians. He earned a doctoral degree in materials engineering at the University of Southern California in 1982 -- putting him in the United States during the tumultuous years after Islamists assassinated President Anwar Sadat, leading his successor, Mr. Mubarak, to crack down on the Brotherhood.
Those who knew him in Los Angeles say Mr. Morsi never appeared notably political or religious. But he returned to teach at Zagazig University in the Nile Delta, where he became a leader in the Brotherhood and eventually one of its first members in the Mubarak-dominated Parliament.
He was picked by higher-ups to lead the Brotherhood's small parliamentary bloc, which then included just 18 members out of more than 500 lawmakers. He thus played a key role in the group's first experiment in multiparty electoral democracy and coalition building. But in subsequent years, as he was elevated to the Brotherhood's governing board, he gained the reputation as an internal enforcer, known for discouraging voices of dissent.
When the Brotherhood adopted a hypothetical party platform in 2007 that cited Islamic tenets as requiring that neither a woman nor a non-Muslim should be eligible to be Egypt's president, Mr. Morsi was a chief defender of those planks.
Since Mr. Mubarak's ouster, the Brotherhood has jettisoned those positions from its platform. But during the campaign, Mr. Morsi said that as a personal matter he still believed the presidency should go only to a male Muslim.
The Brotherhood has sought to rebuild the partnership with more secular and liberal advocates of democracy that came together in the uprising against Mr. Mubarak, and Brotherhood leaders have vowed not to hold any negotiations with the generals without the participation of the other groups in their so-called "national front."
In a statement, the White House referred to that promise, congratulating Mr. Morsi even as it called on him to reach out to Egypt's non-Islamist constituencies: "We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens -- including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians." The statement also called on the military to allow a full transition to a democratic government.
Official reaction in Israel was muted, congratulating the country on its election. Israeli officials have watched the roiling events next door in Egypt with trepidation over the past year and a half, reflecting concern that the Egyptian generals' long honoring of a peace treaty with Israel would be up for reassessment under a new government.
In Gaza, however, where the Brotherhood-allied Hamas faction is predominant, wild celebrations broke out. Many gunmen took to firing long volleys in the air, leading to the death of a 24-year-old man and the wounding of two girls in Rafah, near the border crossing to Egypt.
Gen. Shafiq was silent Sunday. But a handful of his supporters held their own angry protests to denounce the decision of the election commission.
Feb. 11: Hosni Mubarak steps down and turns power over to the military.
Aug. 3: Mubarak goes on trial.
April 20, 2012: The presidential campaign begins.
June 2: Mubarak is convicted for failing to stop the killing of protesters. He is sentenced to life in prison.
June 16-17: Egyptians vote in a runoff election between Morsi and Shafiq.
June 18: Morsi declares victory, but so does Shafiq.
June 24: Election officials declare Morsi the winner of Egypt's first free election with 51.7 percent of the vote.
-- Associated Press
First Published June 25, 2012 12:05 am