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Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi becomes Egypt’s first civilian president

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was declared Egypt’s first civilian president since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952. But he will share power with a military suspicious of his 84-year-old Islamist organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi will be Egypt‘s first civilian president in a historic victory for an 84-year-old organization that was banned and oppressed under the former regime just a year and a half ago.

Morsi supporters in Tahrir Square erupted in wild cheers when election officials announced that Morsi won the race with 51.73 percent of the vote, narrowly beating his opponent Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, who was pushed from power during a popular uprising against his regime in February 2011. Outside the square, cars honked and Egyptians set off fireworks to celebrate their first freely elected president.

Yet the moment that should have ended Egypt’s tortuous transition from military rule to civilian government is bittersweet: the generals who have ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster have limited the authority of the incoming president, and will hold significant influence after he takes office, setting the stage for a prolonged battle to bring about a true transition to civilian rule.

Morsi will assume Egypt’s top office June 30 as the president of a deeply divided nation. His supporters see his win over a Mubarak-era official as a victory for the uprising. Others worry Morsi will be more beholden to the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood than the Egyptian people, and that he will seek to implement Islamic law and limit individual freedoms. Yet it’s unclear how much influence he will be able to exert to accomplish any of his goals after a power grab by the military last week.

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Military rules

After a court ruling nullified Egypt’s first freely elected parliament in more than five decades, leading to its dissolution, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued an amendment to Egypt’s interim constitution that limited the president’s power, gave the generals sole authority over all military matters, and gave the military council extensive control over the drafting of Egypt’s permanent constitution. The Brotherhood rejected the amendment and called large protests in Tahrir, giving the appearance of a confrontation with the military.

Yet the two sides were also talking behind closed doors, leading some to wonder whether the announcement today was the result of a deal. It had been delayed for three days, fueling rumors of negotiations. Two members of a coalition of revolutionary icons and secularists who announced their support for Morsi Friday said Brotherhood members told them the SCAF gave the Brotherhood an ultimatum last week: accept the constitutional declaration, or Morsi’s opponent Shafiq would be declared the winner. Whether the Brotherhood promised SCAF anything in exchange for being allow the presidency is a question on many minds here.

As he maneuvers for power against the military, Morsi, a bespectacled, American-educated engineer, will face nearly half a country skeptical of or openly hostile to his rule. A group of revolutionary leaders announced their support for him Friday in return for promises he was committed to a democratic civil state, and would appoint an inclusive government and a vice president not from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). But many others still oppose the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate.

Shortly after the elections results were announced, Morsi made good on a promise to resign his party membership in the FJP as a symbol of his willingness to form an inclusive government.

Egyptians will be closely watching the first moves of Morsi and the Brotherhood. If the movement ends its protests in Tahrir square against the constitutional amendment, many will suspect a deal between SCAF and the Brotherhood. Whether Morsi attempts to assert control over and reform the security services, and who he appoints as minister of defense, will also be telling. Secular and liberal Egyptians will wait to see if he will uphold his promise to appoint a woman, Christian, or former presidential candidate as vice president; a trusted, independent figure as prime minister; and a coalition government that represents all Egyptians. The battle for control over Egypt’s permanent constitution also looms large.

Still, whatever happens next, many Brotherhood members and supporters are savoring victory today. Impromptu dance parties broke out on streets in several parts of Cairo after the announcement, as people blocked streets and beat drums in joy.

But the party may not last long. Morsi also inherits a sinking economy that will make it difficult for him to meet expectations of increased wages, better education, and more jobs. Shrinking foreign reserves have brought warnings of a currency devaluation that would send prices soaring.

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Happiness at Morsi’s victory was mixed with relief. Many employees left work early and shops closed Sunday as Cairenes grew anxious that a result seen as fraudulent could precipitate riots. The Brotherhood had claimed victory for Morsi since Monday, but the delay in announcing the results caused fear that the military was searching for a way to declare Shafiq the winner. 

Streets were empty as the election commission overseeing the vote held a televised press conference to announce the winner. In a scene that seemed to mirror Egypt’s lengthy and tiring transition process, the head of the commission, Farouq Sultan, did not announce the winner right away. Instead, he read a lengthy speech defending and praising the work of the commission.

As Egyptians sat on the edge of their seats for results, he proceeded to describe the candidates complaints of irregularities, addressing complaints at the local level that involved, at one point, just eight votes. After nearly an hour of excruciating detail, he finally announced Morsi the winner.

An overwhelming din filled the square as people cheered, blew noise makers, set off firecrackers and honked horns in celebration. Street vendors ran a steady business selling shiny noise makers to the thousands streaming into the square on foot. “We’re overjoyed because our revolution succeeded,” says Manal Lotfy, heading into Tahrir with her family.

But many said they were not only celebrating Morsi’s win, they were also protesting the military’s power grab and demanding the return of the parliament. “Egypt should be free and independent, with civilian rulers,” says Ms. Lotfy. 

“We feel great. We feel we are finally terminating military rule,” says Radwan Sallam, an engineer who came to the square with his son and two daughters, all adults. “They occupied us for 60 years. It was my life dream to see the end of the military occupation,” he said. He admitted the battle was not yet won, but said he now had hope to see a victory in his lifetime. “There is still a long fight ahead. They have the power, but we have the determination.”