Mursi's first messages
reports on the first week in office for Egypt's new president
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From Top: Mursi's first speech as president at Cairo University; swearing in at the Supreme Constitutional Court...
In the heart of Heliopolis, at the presidential palace, and while the newly sworn-in president, Mohamed Mursi, was in his office, dozens of angry Egyptians gathered at the palace gates to voice social and economic grievances.
Also present before the presidential palace are families of those injured due to police brutality during the 25 January Revolution.
"We are here to ask the president to intervene and to get us our rights. This president is an ordinary Egyptian; he, like us, comes from a humble background and he should feel our grievances," said Ibrahim, one of the demonstrating workers.
For three days Ibrahim has been joining friends outside the presidential palace and his calls have been echoed inside the palace itself, although not inside the office of the new president.
"He knows that there are demonstrators and he said they should be allowed to express their views. He did not say anything else," commented an administration staff member at the palace.
The mere fact that these demonstrators have been able to gather and protest before the presidential palace is in itself an indication of the change in posture of Egypt's new president whose security requirements have been significantly reduced compared to those of his predecessor.
In an inaugural speech delivered Friday evening in Tahrir Square, Mursi made a point of moving away from the presidential security detail to get closer to the cheering masses and to affirm that he does not fear for his life and that he is determined to communicate directly with the people.
"We will always be in continuous touch. I shall not be isolated away from you and will always be coming to see you here in Tahrir Square," Mursi said to the Tahrir crowd to their delight.
Establishing his intention to be -- unlike his isolated predecessor -- a president in permanent touch with the people was a key message of the Mursi speech, the first he made since he announced his victory in the elections almost a week before the result was confirmed. Then too he made a point of underlining his commitment to avoiding losing touch with the masses that voted him into office.
Before going to Tahrir Square, Mursi had also on Friday made a public appearance at Al-Azhar Mosque where his motorcade arrived with limited security measures. Worshipers seeking to join the new president in his first Friday prayers were unconditionally allowed into the mosque.
Apart from presenting himself as the president of the masses, Mursi had several other messages to put across during his first week in office.
A key message is his commitment to work for the development of a "civil, constitutional and modern state" -- something that supporting non-Islamist political forces had insisted on before agreeing to lend him their support in a very tight contest against Hosni Mubarak's last premier, Ahmed Shafik.
The phrase "civil state" was absent in the speech made by Mursi announcing his victory, but it was firmly accentuated during the Tahrir speech and in a subsequent speech that he delivered at Cairo University in a ceremony held for his inauguration.
Relevant to Mursi's commitment to the "civil state", there was clear reference made in Tahrir Square to the literary and art community. "I had missed expressing my support and appreciation for them when I made my first speech but this was not intentional and I wish to underline my respect and appreciation to all of them; together we will work to restore Egypt's cultural leadership," Mursi said Friday.
The new president who comes from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he had represented as an MP in previous parliamentary elections, and who headed the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Brotherhood, resigned from the organisation and the leadership of its party.
And while not disassociating himself from the Islamist current in Egyptian politics, in his recognition of Egypt as a civil state and in his acknowledgement of the country's cultural status, Mursi was aiming to reassure those who fear alleged Islamist schemes to turn Egypt into a semi-theocracy or to bring under wraps the otherwise vivid cultural production of the country.
A third message put across this week by the new president was sent to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ran the country since ousted president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down on 11 February 2011 until 30 June of this year when formally power was transferred to the new president. Regardless of ceremony, SCAF remain partners with Mursi by virtue of their recently issued addendum to the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration, which gives SCAF full legislative powers in lieu of the recently dissolved parliament, and that puts SCAF at the forefront of certain executive matters, including passing the state budget and deciding the affairs of the military.
The message that Mursi sent to SCAF seemed to carry in equal measure elements of approval and elements of defiance.
Following his announced victory, Mursi went to visit SCAF at the Defence Ministry headquarters -- a move perceived as an acknowledgement of the unsaid but obvious fact that this president will not overrule SCAF as Mubarak or any of his predecessors could.
And despite the fact that Mursi received a military salute from SCAF head Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, it was clear by gestures that Tantawi is not subordinate to Mursi.
A clear sign of Mursi's recognition of the continued influence of SCAF was his decision to accept taking the presidential oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court, in line with the addendum to the Constitutional Declaration, despite the previously announced opposition of Mursi supporters from within to the Muslim Brotherhood, and elsewhere in Islamist and wider revolutionary quarters, to this addendum.
Moreover, Mursi who had declined to have the official oath aired on television, finally had to succumb to the wish of the judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court -- whose association with SCAF is subject to considerable debate -- to have the ceremony put on TV.
While in practice Mursi was accommodating SCAF, in rhetoric he was sending them messages of defiance -- sometimes starkly.
Speaking in Tahrir Square Friday evening, Mursi said that the masses are the source of legitimacy and he promised not to see undermined any presidential prerogatives. Speaking on Saturday at Cairo University, Mursi insisted, in the presence of Tantawi and his right hand man, Sami Anan, that "elected" individuals and bodies will be in charge of the country.
Still, at Cairo University and during a speech that he made also on Saturday during a military parade, Mursi paid tribute to the role that SCAF and the Armed Forces had played in administrating the country's affairs during the past year and a half.
Moreover, Mursi's supporters, who had pledged to stage an open-ended sit at Tahrir Square if SCAF did not eliminate the addendum to the Constitutional Declaration decided to go home to "allow the president the chance to negotiate the matter with SCAF".
According to sources close to SCAF, the addendum will not be annulled. It would only be put aside when a new constitution is drafted by a committee whose composition and work have been disrupted by endless disagreements and quarrels on large and small issues, including on the role of Islamic Sharia law -- a matter many see as the lynchpin of whether Egypt will be a civil state or turn eventually into a semi-theocracy.
Sources in the Muslim Brotherhood told Al-Ahram Weekly that representatives of the group and its political party in the constitution drafting committee -- whose fate will be decided by a court ruling in September -- were instructed to be more flexible. But this is not proving easy in the face of the hardline approach adopted by Salafis who seem to be making a point of dragging the Muslim Brotherhood into more radical circles.
"We know that people are afraid that we are going to [attack] their lifestyles Òê¦ and we are trying very hard in every way possible to dispel these concerns. Of course this would consolidate the position of Dr Mursi," said a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mursi himself had made a point of assuring scared liberals and seculars that he is not planning, for now, to impose any strict Islamic rulings on society. No particular dress code would be imposed on the Muslim women of Egypt, Mursi told a group of editors and TV anchors, including unveiled women, which he met during his first week in office.
Mursi also aimed to reassure the clearly apprehensive Coptic community of Egypt, whose numbers are estimated as between five and 15 million. "I am a president for all Egyptians -- Muslims and Christians alike," said the president in his victory announcement speech.
Mursi who comes from the ranks of a group that only a few years ago declined to acknowledge the rights of Copts and women to assume top executive posts promised that in the presidential advisory board he is planning to establish he would have Copts and women. He also pledged that among some five vice presidents he is considering appointing, there would be a seat dedicated to a Coptic politician and another for a woman -- something Salafis are publicly opposed to.
Moreover, Mursi is planning, according to sources close to the president, to allocate no less than five seats in his first cabinet to Copts and women.
In his first week in office, Mursi met with representatives of the leading churches of Egypt (the Coptic Orthodox, the Catholic and the Anglican churches). In the meeting, the president made direct statements of commitment to the equal rights of all citizens of Egypt.
Speaking to State Radio following the meeting, the acting patriarch of the Coptic Church, which almost unanimously voted for Shafik during the second round, expressed satisfaction with the statements made by Mursi.
Western diplomats and human rights groups who have been closely monitoring Mursi's statements in this regard have all expressed initial optimism on the positions Egypt's first ever Islamist president has taken towards Copts in Egypt.
Meanwhile, Mursi also opted to send reassuring messages on the foreign front. Egypt, he said repeatedly, in every statement he made, is committed to its international obligations set under existing treaties it has signed -- a clear reference to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979.
Egypt, Mursi added in a direct message to clearly worried Gulf countries, is not planning to export its revolution and will not interfere in the internal affairs of any country. This statement was made during a meeting that Mursi held at the presidential palace with the first foreign dignitary to visit, the foreign minister of Kuwait.
This said; Egypt would not take insults from anyone, Mursi said. Yesterday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates -- which plays host to some of Mubarak's top aides -- to complain about a Twitter incident in which Dubai's chief of police wrote negatively about Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, Mursi made it clear in his speeches that Cairo would support Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian and Palestinian peoples.
Later this month, Mursi may make his first foreign trip as president if he decides to head the country's delegation to the Addis Ababa hosted African Summit. "Most probably he would; he seems keen to affirm Egypt's relation with Africa and it is clear that he realises that Ethiopia is a crucial country to befriend if we want to find an agreed arrangement over disputed Nile water shares," said an Egyptian diplomat.
During the next two weeks, Mursi will be receiving several Western and Arab diplomats keen to form their own first impressions of the man and to gain clues to his agenda as Egypt's first democratically elected leader.