Former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi was inaugurated Saturday as Egypt’s first-democratically elected civilian president in a day filled with pomp, promise and a push by the new president to assert authority over the country’s military council.
Speaking in same hall where President Obama called for democratic reforms in Egypt three years ago, Morsi repeatedly called on the military to return to its barracks, even as they constitutionally now control the parliament and all military matters.
The military council “has fulfilled their promise that they will never be a substitute for the people’s will,” he said in a 22-minute address at Cairo University. “And the elected institutes will return to their roles, and the armed forces will go back to the barracks.”
With limited powers and no permanent constitution defining Morsi’s authority, a patina of the realism hung over the day even as Egyptians were enraptured by the nation’s seemingly democratic transformation.
Despite Morsi’s demand, the ruling military council must constitutionally govern the state for several months, while the constitutional assembly drafts a permanent document and new parliamentary elections are held.
“When we see a constitution and an effective parliament running the country, we can say that the transitional period has ended,” said Mustafa Kamel el Sayyed, a professor of political science at American University Cairo. “Until then, I don’t think that Morsi has or will have any control, leadership or say over the military organization.”
Moris took the oath was before the constitutional court whose ruling led to the dissolution of the parliament, the traditional site of Egypt’s presidential inauguration.
At Cairo University, the generals sat in the front row, met chants from some in the auditorium, “down, down with military rule.” Over a loudspeaker, the announcer led the attendees to chant in response, “the people and army are one hand.”
It was another reminder that Egypt’s future was still developing 17 months after the uprising that led to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, despite five elections and the inauguration of a new president.
Morsi used his platform to assert his role, but the military council was never too far away to remind him that nothing happened without their approval.
“The formality of the day masked that this is an extended transition period,” Karim el Assir, an analyst at the independent Cairo-based Signet Institute, a Middle East think tank. Morsi, he said, “has a mantle to gain more support. People will have to support him to oppose the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. But really the battles are the same.”
Morsi uttered the same oath as four presidents before him, this time legitimately elected, at exactly 1 p.m. flanked by 18 judges who formed an arch around him. Across the street from the hall was the military hospital where an ailing Mubarak is now being treated after a June 2 ruling sentenced him to life in prison.
Afterward, Morsi was invited to a military ceremony, where the generals listed their own accomplishments during the transitional period. In an important symbolic gesture, Field Marshall Tantawi, who leads the military council, saluted Morsi as he rose to speak about the military accomplishments.
Throughout the day, Morsi walked a fine line between the revolutionaries and Brotherhood members who ushered him into office and the establishment he must now work within. He thanked the military and police at Cairo University even as relatives of those killed by security forces sat in the hall. Morsi also suggested several times that the parliament should be reinstated.
"Today, Egypt has paved the way for real life with freedom and real democracy I respect the judiciary system and the legislative system and I will do my job to protect the independence of these authorities," he said shortly after the inauguration.
Morsi vowed to support the Palestinian people “until they get their rights” and condemned the Syrian authorities. In a tip to the Gulf States, he said Egypt would not “export” its revolution. And in a message to the United States, he said he did not want other nations interfering with Egyptian affairs.
He never spoke about the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization he has been a member of since 1977, represented in parliament and depended on to win the election.
The audience inside the hall was eclectic, filled with one-time opponents sitting next to one another.
Mohammed al Baradei, a sometimes revolutionary leader, sat next to Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, the Army’s chief of Staff and Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi. In addition, the speaker of the now dissolved parliament, Mohammed al-Katatny, featured prominently in the days events despite having no power.
As he arrived at the university, a few hundred people received the president’s convoy. People chanted, clapped their hands and waved at the president. One young man ran to his car and started crying and knocking on the wind shield. He was removed by security officers.
People chanted, "the martyrs ya morsi" and "the people demand the execution of the Marshall" referring to Tantawi.
“It is difficult for a military that ruled Egypt for decades to leave and be ruled by civilians, they cannot understand and agree to what is happening,” said Hamada Younis, 41, a factory worker carrying a crafted poster of Tantawi saluting Morsi outside Cairo University. “If we leave the military in power we will turn into worse than a Mubarak-ruled country, look at Syria.”
The first sign of Morsi’s power could come as early as Sunday when he is expected to announce his cabinet.