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June 08, 2014

Egypt's El-Sissi Inaugurated

by Edward Yeranian

Abdel Fattah el-Sissi was inaugurated Sunday as Egypt's eighth president, less than a year after he helped oust the country's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

Last month's election, which officials said Sissi won with 97 percent of the vote, followed three years of upheaval since a popular uprising ended 30 years of rule by former air force commander Hosni Mubarak.
 
Sissi took the oath of office Sunday at Egypt's Supreme Court, as the country's top justices, government officials and foreign dignitaries looked on. He will serve a four-year term.

Security in Cairo was extra tight, with armored personnel carriers and tanks positioned in strategic locations as Sissi, 59, spoke to foreign dignitaries after a 21-gun salute at Cairo's main presidential palace.
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He called for hard work and the development of freedom “in a responsible framework away from chaos” but did not mention human rights or democracy.
 
“The time has come to build a more stable future,” said Sissi, the sixth Egyptian leader with a military background. “Let us work to establish the values of rightness and peace.”

Check snapshots of celebrations at Cairo's Tahrir Square:
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Deputy Supreme Court Chief Justice Maher Samy, who presided over the ceremony, asked that God spare Egypt from further woes, saying that too much blood has been spilled during three years of political upheaval. He went on to argue that a popular revolution, rather than a military “coup” swept Morsi from office last July.
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Egypt's constitution specifies that a new president be sworn in before the country's parliament, but the absence of a popularly elected assembly forced the alteration of normal procedure. Elections for a new parliament are expected to take place by mid-July, as Egypt tries to restore normal democratic institutions.

Dignitaries at ceremony

Top Arab leaders, including King Abdullah of Jordan, the Emir of Kuwait, the King of Bahrain, Saudi Crown Prince Salman and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi were welcomed by an honor guard at the presidential palace after the ceremony. Both the U.S. and the EU sent mid-level delegations, while the leaders of Turkey and Qatar, with whom relations are strained, were not invited.

Political sociologist Said Sadek argued on Sky News Arabia that the “recognition of Egypt's new leader by the international community is expected to help restore stability to the country.”

He added that the “economy is also likely to get a boost from the return to normal political institutions.”

Sunday was declared an official holiday for the swearing in ceremonies and the streets of the capital Cairo were mostly empty. Security was tight and military checkpoints had been set up on strategic bridges and thoroughfares.

Egyptian officials also appeared to be closed-lipped about exact details of where and when celebrations would take place in the afternoon, although crowds are expected to gather in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square later in the day for popular celebrations.
 
Army helicopters dropped pictures of Sissi in parts of the capital, while supporters of Egypt's new leader cheered and danced to celebrate.
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A large crowd began to gather by late afternoon in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square for an official celebration with music and fireworks. Small, scattered protests by supporters of ousted President Morsi were also reported in parts of the country.
 
Commentators on state and private media heaped praise on him, turning a blind eye to what human rights groups said are widespread abuses, in the hope that he can deliver stability and rescue the economy.
 
Many Egyptians share that hope, but they have limited patience, staging street protests that toppled two leaders in the past three years, and the election turnout of just 47 percent shows Sissi is not as popular as when he toppled Morsi.
 
“Sissi has to do something in his first 100 days, people will watch closely and there might be another revolution. That's what people are like in this country,” said theology student Israa Youssef, 21.

Challenges ahead

Sissi faces the daunting tasks of reviving Egypt's stagnant economy, fighting Islamic extremists and cementing his rule after years of turmoil in the Arab world's most populous country.

The economy is suffering from corruption, bureaucracy and a widening budget deficit aggravated by fuel subsidies that cost nearly $19 billion a year.
 
Officials forecast economic growth at just 3.2 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1, well below levels needed to create enough jobs for a rapidly growing population and ease widespread poverty.
 
And poverty is just one of the challenges facing Sissi. He is likely to face the same protracted challenge from Islamists as his predecessors.

"The presidency of Egypt is a great honor and a huge responsibility," Sissi told local and foreign dignitaries gathered at an opulent Cairo palace hours after his swearing-in ceremony.

Under his rule, Sissi said, Egypt will work for regional security and stability. He also called on Egyptians to build a more stable future after three turbulent years, asking them to work hard so that their rights and freedoms could grow.

"It is time for us to build a future that is more stable and pen a new reality for the future of this nation," he said.

Hard work, something that he has repeatedly called for in recent weeks, will allow Egyptians to "pay attention to rights and freedoms (to) deepen and develop them," he said.

"Let us differ for the sake of our nation and not over it; let us do that as part of a unifying national march in which every party listens to the other objectively and without ulterior motives," he said.

Democratic process
 
Western countries, who hoped the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011 would usher in a new era of democracy, have watched Egypt's political transition stumble.
 
Morsi was the country's first freely elected president, but his year in power was tarnished by accusations that he usurped power, imposed the Brotherhood's views on Islam and mismanaged the economy, allegations he denied.
 
After Sissi deposed him and became Egypt's de facto ruler, security forces mounted one of the toughest crackdowns on the Brotherhood in its 86-year history. Hundreds were killed in street protests and thousands of others jailed.
 
Secular activists were eventually thrown into jail, too, even those who supported Morsi's fall, because they violated a new law that severely restricts protests.
 
Morsi's ouster was applauded by Egypt's Gulf Arab allies, who were alarmed by the rise of the Brotherhood, the international standard-bearer of mainstream Sunni political Islam.
 
The movement, which won nearly every election in Egypt since Mubarak's fall, is seen as a threat to Gulf dynasties.
 
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait extended a lifeline exceeding $12 billion in cash and petroleum products to help Egypt stave off economic collapse after Sissi appeared on television and announced that the Brotherhood was finished.
 
Morsi's Islamist backers - thousands of whom have been jailed since his ouster - accuse Sissi of crushing Egypt's infant democracy. Many of the secular youths behind the 2011 uprising said he has revived Mubarak's police state, pointing to a law passed last year that restricts protests as well as the jailing of a number of well-known activists.

In interviews, Sissi made it clear that his priorities are security and the economy, maintaining that free speech must take a back seat while he fights Islamic militants and works to revive the ailing economy.

But while many support Sissi's fight against the militancy, his plans for the economy have generated less enthusiasm. He has advocated heavy government involvement in the economy, with state-sponsored mega-projects to create jobs and the government setting prices for some goods. At the same time, he has vowed to be business-friendly and encourage investment.

He has spoken of reshaping the map of Egypt by expanding Nile provinces into the desert to make way for development outside the densely populated river valley. His answer for funding his projects is billions of dollars from oil-rich Gulf nations and Egyptian expatriates. 

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.