CAIRO, Egypt — The candidate of Egypt’s long-persecuted Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, was declared president today following days of tense anticipation over the results of the vote.
Cairo’s Tahrir Square, packed to the brim with hundreds of thousands of Morsi supporters, erupted in celebration when the head of Egypt’s presidential elections commission announced the results just after 4 p.m. Cairo time.
The Islamist contender beat out the pro-military candidate and holdover from the ousted regime, Ahmed Shafiq, by just under 900,000 votes.
“I stand here as first freely elected president of Egypt,” Morsi said Sunday night in his first address to the nation on state-run television, an entity that vilified the Brotherhood for years. “I couldn’t be here without god’s blessing, and the sacrifices of others … Egypt needs to united forces.”
In a clear break from the language of his predecessor, ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, Morsi spoke of the responsibilities he faces as an elected leader, directing Egyptians to abandon him if he fails as a democratic leader.
Groups of Egyptians watching Morsi’s speech at a downtown café broke into applause as he made his closing remarks, chanting “Down, down with military rule!”
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Today marks the first time the Muslim Brotherhood, born in Egypt in 1928, and that spawned offshoots in countries across the Arab world, has risen to secure the post of the Egyptian presidency, one of the most powerful in the Middle East.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day that a freely elected president would come into power in Egypt,” said Ahmed Al Nahhas, a member of the Supreme Committee of the Brotherhood’s political wing in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city.
“We’ve been striving to pull this country out of oppression,” he said. “I think even the people who didn’t vote for him are now out celebrating.”
Indeed, thousands of people — young, old, bearded, and un-veiled — descended on Tahrir Square and the surrounding area of downtown Cairo to cheer, chant, dance, light fireworks and honk their car horns.
Egyptians, smiling, laughing, and singing, stood atop trucks, waving flags and chanting: “The revolution will continue!”
Morsi’s bid to paint himself as the candidate of the revolution — the term Egyptians use to describe the 18 days of popular protest that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — appeared to resonate with many Egyptians Sunday night.
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“We are so happy. I feel that there has been a big change,” said 45-year-old Fateh Ahmed Hassan, in Tahrir. “That the country is changing in a positive way.”
Despite not having voted for Morsi, even some of the revolutionary activists said they were pleased that Shafiq, a symbol of the Mubarak regime, was defeated.
“I am happy that the remnants of the former regime have taken a very strong blow today,” said Ramy Yaacoub, a self-described secular political analyst and former chief-of-staff for the secular Free Egyptians Party.
“I don’t think they were beaten entirely,” he said. “But they definitely will be hurting for a long while because of today.”
A number of protesters also came out to Tahrir, still overflowing and seething with triumphant fervor well into the night, to protest recent moves by Egypt’s ruling generals to keep key political powers invested in the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).
In the weeks leading up to the announcement of the results, SCAF, which assumed power during the uprising, dissolved the elected Brotherhood-led parliament, and issued a so-called constitutional declaration that strips the new president of most of his authority.
The Brotherhood leadership has consistently rejected the decree, maintaining that Morsi will assume the presidency with the full power of a commander-in-chief.
In what many observers designated as his first act of defiance, Morsi announced he would take his oath as president in front of the elected — but dissolved — parliament, rather than in front of the Supreme Court, as the constitutional declaration stipulates.
“We won't accept the constitutional declaration,” Morsi’s campaign spokesman, Yehia Ahmed, told GlobalPost Sunday.
Despite the jubilation of the Morsi campaign Sunday night, the Brotherhood faces an uphill battle in its quest to govern free of military rule — and in a deeply polarized nation in the midst of continued political and economic upheaval.
“There will be serious limitations on his ability to govern,” said Hani Sabra, Middle East analyst at the New York-based Eurasia Group, a global political risk and research consulting firm.
“SCAF has said they’re above the law, and they’re going to legislate,” he said. “But it would be inaccurate to refer to him as a powerless president.”
Heba Habib contributed reporting from Cairo, Egypt
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