monday, 25 june of 2012

Islamist Wins Egyptian Vote


Islamist Wins Egyptian Vote

Egyptian election officials declared the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi the country's first freely elected president on Sunday, propelling an Islamist to power and marking another milestone in the Arab world's tumultuous democratic transition.

It sets up what is likely to be an uneasy ruling alliance between two longtime rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military, which has been the country's backbone of power and has ruled Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down last year.

Celebrations erupted across Egypt after the announcement as Mr. Morsi's supporters and opponents of the old order filled the streets. Many secular Egyptians watched uneasily, wondering what Islamist rule will mean for a country that has long been a bulwark of secular, moderate and pro-American governance.

President Barack Obama called Mr. Morsi Sunday, the White House said, adding that Mr. Morsi told Mr. Obama he "welcomed U.S. support for Egypt's transition."

Mr. Morsi won 51.7% in a runoff held a week earlier, said Justice Farouq Sultan, the election commission's chairman, defeating former air-force general and former regime loyalist Ahmed Shafiq, who took 48.3%.

Justice Sultan saluted Mr. Morsi as the "new president of Egypt's second republic."

A U.S.-educated engineer, Mr. Morsi will be the Arab world's first freely elected president. That he hails from a conservative Islamist party, with offshoots in nearly every Muslim-majority country, is certain to reverberate beyond Egypt's borders—particularly in other Arab states still in the throes of revolution.

"It is a revolution against the very nature of the Arab state that is not accountable to its people," said Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University in Cairo. "For the first time, we have the people in the largest Arab country having and dictating their say despite ferocious opposition."

The White House congratulated Mr. Morsi and urged him to reach out to other political forces and respect the rights of women and Christians. Mr. Morsi's victory opens a new chapter in the U.S.'s slow rapprochement with the region's rising Islamist movements.

Egypt has long stood at the heart of U.S. interests in the region, receiving more than $1.3 billion in military aid in exchange for backing U.S. interests, such as maintaining peace with Israel and confronting Iran's nuclear program.

The Brotherhood has reached out to Washington in recent months, holding dozens of meetings with U.S. officials and lawmakers in Washington and in Cairo, trying to reassure those concerned about the movement's history of virulent anti-Americanism.

In Israel, where there is deep unease about the Brotherhood's growing clout, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "Israel looks forward to continuing to cooperate with the Egyptian administration on the basis of the peace treaty between the two countries." In his acceptance speech Sunday night, Mr. Morsi pledged to "preserve international agreements and commitments," a nod to Egypt's 30-year-old peace treaty with Israel.

Israel's foreign ministry tried to engage Muslim Brotherhood leaders in recent months, through requests passed to Egyptian diplomatic officials, but have gotten no response, an Israeli official said.

Mr. Morsi's narrow victory propels the long-banned and persecuted Brotherhood into what has historically been the country's most powerful office, 84 years after a schoolteacher founded the group.

In his first speech to the nation after being declared Egypt's next president, Mr. Morsi sounded a conciliatory tone. He pledged to protect the rights of women and minorities, and spoke of establishing a "modern, democratic, and constitutional government." He made no mention of Islamic law.

"Egypt is for all Egyptians, all of us equal in our rights and our responsibilities to this nation," he said, standing at a wood podium, with the Egypt's state seal in front.

Later, state television showed what was once unthinkable: Mr. Morsi's presidential motorcade being escorted by police and army vehicles out of the studio to his home outside of Cairo, while throngs of cheering supporters lined the road.

In his speech, Mr. Morsi praised those state institutions that were once at the forefront of the regime's battle against the group, including police, intelligence officers, judges and the military.

Earlier in the day, Egypt's top general, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, sent Mr. Morsi a letter congratulating him on his win.

But the Brotherhood's long power struggle with military is far from over. The military has pledged to hand over power to Mr. Morsi by the end of the month. But Mr. Morsi will assume a presidency crippled by military-imposed constitutional changes that have stripped the office of most of its powers.

On Sunday, Brotherhood leaders said they would sustain protests in Cairo's central Tahrir Square until the military restored power to the president and reversed its decision to disband parliament, where the Brotherhood holds 47% of the seats.

In another act of defiance, Brotherhood officials said Mr. Morsi would take the presidential oath in front of the officially disbanded parliament.

Mr. Morsi faces daunting challenges and a divided nation, where many are deeply suspicious of the Brotherhood's Islamist agenda.

"They definitely have an agenda to impose Islamic Shariah," said Ahmed Saied, head of the secular Free Egyptians Party, referring to Islam's legal code. "We are dealing with people who are full of question marks and I really don't know where they want to take the country. I'm not comfortable with this."

Holdovers from Mr. Mubarak's regime who remain in influential positions throughout the state bureaucracy are unlikely to cooperate with Mr. Morsi's attempts to make changes and govern.

In campaign's final days, Mr. Morsi stitched together a rare alliance of secular and liberal figures. He has pledged to name an independent as prime minister, appoint five vice presidents from other political parties and name non-Brotherhood members to the majority of cabinet posts in his government.

But until a few weeks ago, Mr. Morsi was known as a hard-line and often-divisive figure within the Muslim Brotherhood. He was one of the architects of its 2007 draft policy platform, which formally opposed the right of Christians and women to be president. The draft document was never adopted.

He also was instrumental in driving out young members of the movement who defied the Brotherhood last year by joining Egypt's secular young revolutionaries in leading the uprising against Mr. Mubarak.

Outside losing candidate Mr. Shafiq's headquarters, supporters hurled stones at a nearby billboard of Mr. Morsi, then tore it to the ground and burned it.

The wider Arab world greeted Mr. Morsi's victory with a mixture of enthusiasm and dismay. Officials in the oil-rich Arab states of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates view the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to their rule second only to the Shiite-led Islamic Republic of Iran because of the group's criticism of their traditional authoritarian rule.

These countries quietly applauded the Egyptian military's moves last week that dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament and neutered the powers of the presidency.

However, Mr. Morsi is likely to receive a boost of support from natural-gas powerhouse Qatar, which has hosted exiled Muslim Brotherhood leaders for years and given the group a powerful platform on its government-financed al-Jazeera Arab news network.

Since the start of the Egyptian uprising last year, Qatar has promised $500 million in financial aid to Cairo. Qatari investors have also promised more than $10 billion in investments in Egyptian infrastructure projects.

In Gaza, jubilant Palestinians celebrated with gunfire, and convoys of Hamas supporters passed out sweets in the streets. The shift in Egypt has the potential to directly impact Palestinian politics, and has spurred hope of a relaxation of Egyptian restrictions at the border with Gaza.

(Published by The Wall Street Journal - June 24, 2012)

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