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June 24, 2012

Islamist Morsi Wins Egypt's Presidential Election

by Elizabeth Arrott

CAIRO -- The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi has been elected the next president of Egypt.  The victory for the long-repressed Islamist group begins a new act in a central drama of the nation's politics over the past 60 years - the Brotherhood versus the military.  Morsi addressed the nation late Sunday.

In his first speech as president-elect, Morsi offered a vision of inclusion - a sharp contrast to the polarizing campaign from which he emerged victorious.

Egypt's first freely elected, civilian president called on fellow Egyptians - Muslim and Christian - to pursue the Brotherhood's project for a national renaissance.  Morsi pledged to fight sectarianism and what he called "plots" to destroy the country's unity.

The distrust that gripped Egypt throughout the campaign lasted through the lengthy preamble to the announcement of Morsi's victory.  A tense crowd of Morsi supporters on Tahrir Square erupted in celebration when the results were revealed.
 
Thousands shouted their approval, waved flags and set off fireworks to mark the victory.

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The declaration that the Islamist leader captured 51.7 percent of the vote launched Egypt on a path unthinkable to Morsi's predecessor.  Once a political prisoner under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the 60-year-old Morsi has become the man to replace him.
 
But it is a far weaker position than the one for which the president-elect ran.  Egypt's ruling military council has taken for itself key executive powers as well as legislative control after dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament.
 
The announcement of the election winner ended a tense week in which results were delayed as the commission went over complaints of vote fraud from both sides.  Morsi and his campaign rival, Ahmed Shafiq, claimed victory earlier in the week, and many saw the wait as a period of brinksmanship between the Brotherhood and the ruling military council over the post-election balance of power in Egypt.
 
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has headed Egypt since Mubarak's downfall in an uprising last year, promised to hand over power to a civilian leadership by the end of this month.  Its actions during the past 10 days have cast deep doubt on that pledge.

“I think the military council is testing the determination of the people, and they are trying to find a way back to power,” said former presidential candidate and now Morsi supporter, Abdullah al Ashaal.
 
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Morsi's supporters have vowed to stay in Tahrir Square until the military gives back its newly gained powers.  The president-elect has formed a national unity front with secularists, liberals and some activists at the forefront of the revolution last year as a challenge to the possibility of continued military dominance.
 
Morsi also has resigned his positions in the Muslim Brotherhood as a nod to his promise of an inclusive government.
 
Earlier in the week, Morsi's rival in the run-off vote, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, promised to accept the results.  But concerns remain about how his supporters will react. Many expressed fear of growing Islamism in what has been one of the Arab world's more tolerant nations.
 
Unrest in general has been a major worry since last year's uprising.  Morsi campaign spokesman Gehad el Haddad pledged that the Islamist leader will address the problem head on.
 
“We can achieve the stability for the country and we can make the security, and also we can satisfy people’s demand from a new perspective, not from the old regime by oppression,” el Haddad said.
 
But analysts say the history of Egyptian politics promises a power struggle between Morsi and the military in the months ahead.