Egypt’s President-Elect Considers New Government

Posted June 25th, 2012 at 8:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Egypt's Islamist president-elect Mohamed Morsi has started work on forming what he pledges will be an inclusive government, one day after becoming the country's first democratically elected civilian president.

In one of several steps on Monday, Mr. Morsi moved into the offices of the presidential palace, formerly occupied by ousted president Hosni Mubarak until a popular uprising toppled the autocratic leader last year.

Mr. Morsi also met with Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, whom state television quoted as promising support to the country's “legitimate president-elect.”

Outgoing Prime Minister Kamal al Ganzouri submitted his resignation Monday, but will remain in a caretaker capacity until the new government is in place. The military council that has led Egypt since Mubarak's ouster has promised to hand power to an elected civilian president by the end of this month.

Mr. Morsi is expected to take the oath of office in front of Egypt's Constitutional Court rather than the lower house of parliament, because of the recent court-ordered dissolution of the assembly.

It is unclear how much power Egypt's post-revolution presidency will hold. The ruling military council recently gave itself key executive powers and claimed control of legislative affairs after the Muslim Brotherhood-led lower house of parliament was dissolved earlier this month.

Mr. Morsi was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood before resigning after being declared president-elect. The Brotherhood has rejected the military's actions, raising the prospect of a power struggle between the Islamists and the generals.

Mr. Morsi's supporters also have vowed to stay in Cairo's Tahrir Square until powers are restored to the president and legislature. By Monday afternoon, fewer than one thousand protesters remained in the square, and traffic appeared to be flowing as usual.

In a speech late Sunday, Mr. Morsi said he would be “president of all Egyptians,” and he vowed to name a woman and a Christian to his new government.

Along with pursuing national unity, Mr. Morsi has pledged to uphold Egypt's standing international agreements. Chief among them is Egypt's peace treaty with Israel from 1979. Egypt was the first Arab nation to enter into a peace agreement with Israel, but the Muslim Brotherhood has long been a critic of it.

Iranian news agency Fars published what it said was an interview with Mr. Morsi on Monday, quoting the Egyptian president-elect as saying he wants a a closer relationship with Tehran to create a “strategic balance” in the region. But an aide to Mr. Morsi denied that the interview ever took place and said the comments reported by Fars were false. Egypt and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, said it is unlikely that Egypt's military rulers will allow Mr. Morsi to handle sensitive foreign affairs topics such as Israel or Iran.

“Relations with Israel, with Iran, with anything that has to do with sensitive foreign policy or national security are still in the hands of the army,” said Ashour. “So we will probably see some rhetoric regarding reconciliation and accommodation with all of the regional powers, but I think it would be relatively difficult for [Mr. Morsi] to make significant changes in Egyptian foreign policy.”

Ashour said Mr. Morsi may try to improve Egypt's official relations with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But he said he does not think the new president will want to get into a conflict with the generals.

(Yeranian reported from Cairo and Lipin from Washington)