Mohammed Morsi, a twice-jailed member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was declared president of Egypt on Sunday, becoming this country’s first civilian, democratically elected leader, the region’s first Islamist president and the new official face of the 17-month-old uprising that has demanded, but not yet created, revolutionary change here.
The challenges ahead for Morsi are daunting. He is taking over a divided populace and sharing power with a military council that has governed Egypt directly or in the shadows since modern Egypt was created with the 1952 overthrow of the country’s monarchy. With no permanent constitution and the elected Parliament ordered dissolved 10 days ago, Morsi’s duties and powers are uncertain in a state where corruption and institutions established under the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak remain solidly in place,.
In his first television address, in a state media building he was once banned from, flanked by presidential guards who once served those who jailed him, Morsi delivered a message of national reconciliation. At one point he begged for unity. He praised nearly every major constituency and vowed to serve them all: the revolutionaries, the police, army, women, businessmen and religious leaders. He even called the Mubarak-appointed judiciary “independent.”
“I would not be standing here without the sacrifice of the martyrs,” Morsi said, a reference to those who had died during the 18 days of demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s resignation from the presidency. “I will serve all of Egypt. …The revolution continues until we achieve all our aims.”
And in a nod to the Egyptian peace deal with Israel, he said he was committed to “international agreements” and to peace.
Undeniably, Egypt had entered a new chapter as a nation with a history of autocratic rule that goes back thousands of years. Despite a week filled with conspiracies and fears of a rigged outcome, it appeared that the ruling military council had not obstructed the will of the people. Egypt had held a legitimate democratic election.
According to official election commission results, Morsi a 60-year-old engineer, garnered 13.2 million votes to Ahmed Shafik’s 12.3 million, a 52-48 percentage split that was almost identical to what Morsi had claimed just hours after the polls closed a week ago. But that didn’t stop the commission from leading up to the announcement with an hour-long explanation of its findings, including details on why the commission disqualified two votes for one of the candidates in a nation of 26 million voters. In the end, however, the difference between the results released by the Brotherhood in the hours after the vote and those unveiled Sunday showed just 5,000 fewer ballots for Morsi.
Morsi’s supporters were exuberant, thrilled not just by the results but also by the fact that they clearly had not been rigged.
“I knew Morsi won but we feared the military council would rig the results,” said Ahmed Hussein, 28, an accountant and fervent Morsi supporter who had spent two days in the square.
In Tahrir Square, the focus of the uprising that forced Mubarak from office, Morsi supporters erupted in cheers at exactly 4:29 p.m., when the results were announced.
The revelry was without restraint. People screamed, dropped to their knees in prayer and fired off fireworks, even though the sun was still up. Morsi supporters showered the crowds with water to fend off the scorching summer heat. Revelers remained well into the evening, in what looked likely to become an all-night street party.
Morsi’s uncertain mandate was evident, however, as was his lack of appeal to the revolutionaries whose fervor had toppled Mubarak. Revolutionaries said they were more pleased that Shafik, a retired air force general and Mubarak’s last prime minister, had lost than Morsi won. And they were aware that the election did not mark real reforms.
“I feel the same way I did when Mubarak resigned,” Ahmed Maher, who led the 6th of April, revolutionary movement, Sunday night. “We will continue to stay in Tahrir until we find a solution for the constitutional amendments. …No one expected the results. When [the military council] saw the pressure of protesters in Tahrir, it was difficult for them to rig the elections.”
A shop owner just a block away from Tahrir expressed his tepid enthusiasm for change, all as honking supporters whizzed by.
“We haven’t tried the Brotherhood before,” said Mohammed Ahmed, 39, an electronics shop manager, who had locks on standby for his shop had Shafik won. “We haven’t had a chance to try something else.”
During the campaign, Morsi promised to be a centrist ruler, despite his Islamist background and his role at the head of the nation’s most powerful and most divisive political organization. He promised to build a coalition government, pledged that his prime minister would be an independent and that his government would include Christians. He vowed not to turn Egypt into a cleric-led theocracy, though he said Islam should provide governing principles.
On the military, he has said he would not shield its vast budget from the public but at the same time suggested he would seek the military council’s advice on who the defense minister should be.
Morsi has called for Egypt no longer to be subordinate to the United States, suggesting he would confront Egypt’s close ties to America under Mubarak. In a statement, the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted the U.S. hope that a Morsi presidency would respect human rights and the minority Coptic Christians. "We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States."
Within minutes of claiming the presidency, Morsi met a campaign pledge and resigned from the Brotherhood, though it seemed to be a largely symbolic move. Once called the “spare tire” since he only became a candidate after the first choice was disqualified, some consider him as a puppet of a party dreaming of an Islamist-governed Egypt.
President Barack Obama called Morsi after the announcement, the White House said in the statement. Among others who offered their congratulations were the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, the head of Egypt’s interior ministry whose officers once jailed Morsi.
Obama also called Shafik, who earlier had conceded that he’d lost. According to the White House, Obama encouraged Shafik “to play are role in Egyptian politics by supporting the democratic process and working to unify the Egyptian people.”
Shafik’s supporters expressed shock at the outcome. Some collapsed and cried. In Cairo’s wealthier neighborhoods, residents cursed the outcome or just remained silent.
The result was announced a full week after the balloting. In the days between the voting and the announcement, the nation was tense over rumors that the military might orchestrate naming Shafik the winner. As late as Thursday, Shafik had said he was certain he would win.
Those rumors had been fed by a series of developments in recent days. Within hours of polls closing a week ago, the ruling military council, whose members had battled the Muslim Brotherhood for decades, announced that it had amended the nation’s temporary constitution so that the president would have no independent say over military matters. The council also handed itself authority over the drafting of a permanent constitution. Only days before that, the military council had dissolved the country’s Parliament, which the Muslim Brotherhood had dominated, after the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court declared that it had been elected illegally.
But many said Sunday that those actions were less important now than the declaration of Morsi’s victory, a sign that the military council had respected the will of the people.
“Morsi is our president. We recognized it from the initial results. We came here to bring him his rights and authorities as president,” said Ahmed al Masry, a 24-year-old Arabic teacher who said he hadn’t voted for Morsi in the initial round of balloting in May.
Special correspondent Mohannad Sabry contributed to this report.