Egypt's Islamist president-elect to be sworn in

June 30, 2012 - 6:07 AM
Mideast Egypt

Egypt's President-elect Mohammed Morsi talks to his supporters at Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, June 29, 2012. In front of tens of thousands of cheering supporters, Egypt's first Islamist and civilian president-elect vowed that nobody can take away his authority and symbolically read an oath of office on the eve of his official inauguration. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — Islamist Mohammed Morsi arrived before Egypt's highest court to take the oath of office on Saturday as the country's first freely elected president, succeeding Hosni Mubarak who was ousted 16 months ago.

When sworn in before the Supreme Constitutional Court, Morsi will also be the Arab world's first freely elected Islamist president and Egypt's fifth head of state since the overthrow of the monarchy some 60 years ago.

The court, housed in a Nile-side structure built to resemble an ancient Egyptian temple, stands next door to a military hospital to which Mubarak, 84, was transferred about two weeks ago after suffering a health scare in a nearby prison hospital. He is serving a life sentence for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during last year's uprising.

Hundreds of soldiers and policemen guarded the building as Morsi arrived shortly after 11 a.m. local time (9 a.m. GMT) in a small motorcade. Only several hundred supporters gathered outside the court to cheer the new president and, in a departure from the presidential pomp of the Mubarak years, traffic was only briefly halted to allow his motorcade through on the usually busy road linking the city center with its southern suburbs.

Morsi took a symbolic oath on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising, before tens of thousands of mostly Islamist supporters.

A U.S.-trained engineer, the 60-year-old Morsi was scheduled to deliver his inauguration speech at Cairo University, established in 1908 as a bastion of secular education but which became a stronghold of Islamist student groups in the 1970s. Many of those student leaders have gone on to become senior members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's oldest and most powerful Islamist movement.

A handover ceremony hosted by the military generals who ruled Egypt since Mubarak's ouster follows.

Morsi's Friday speech in Tahrir Square was filled with dramatic populist gestures. The 60-year-old president-elect staked a claim to the legacy of the uprising and voiced his determination to win back the powers stripped from his office by the generals.

Addressing a crowd that repeatedly shouted, "We love you Morsi!" he began his speech by joining them in chanting, "Revolutionaries and free, we will continue the journey." Later he opened his jacket wide to show that he was not wearing a bullet-proof vest. "I fear no one but God and I work for you," he told the cheering supporters. As he was leaving the podium, he pushed aside two army soldiers from his security detail to wave goodbye to the crowd.

"Everybody is hearing me now. The government ... the military and the police. ... No power above this power," he told the crowd. "I reaffirm to you I will not give up any of the president's authorities. I can't afford to do this. I don't have that right."

Morsi's defiant tone, however, could not conceal that by agreeing to take the oath before the court, rather than before parliament as is customary, he was bowing to the military's will.

The generals dissolved the Islamist-packed legislature after the same court that will swear him in Saturday ruled that a third of its members were elected illegally.

The military has also declared itself the legislative power. It gave itself control over the drafting of a new constitution and sidelined Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which had sought to influence the process by packing the drafting panel with Islamists.

The generals also created a National Security Council to formulate key domestic and foreign policies. Military officers outnumber civilians sitting on the council by about two-to-one, and decisions are made by a simple majority.

In his Friday speech, Morsi repeatedly returned to his main themes — the will of the people, the importance of unity and sticking to the goals of last year's revolution.

He promised to reject any efforts to take away the "power of the people," telling his supporters: "You are the source of legitimacy and whoever is protected by anyone else will lose."