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10:19, 25 June 2012 Monday

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Egypt's president begins building civilian govt
Egypt's president begins building civilian govt
(EPA)

Cairo's Tahrir Square, theatre of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, exploded in joy - and relief as Morsy was declared the winner of last weekend's presidential run-off against Ahmed Shafik.

World Bulletin / News Desk

Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood sets about building a civilian administration for Egypt on Monday that can heal a divisive history of oppression and coax a mistrustful army into relaxing its grip on power.

Behind the scenes, talks were already under way between the Islamists and generals to resolve disputes that blew up this month over steps by the ruling military council to hem in the powers of the first freely elected president Egypt has known.

Cairo's Tahrir Square, theatre of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, exploded in joy - and relief - on Sunday as Morsy was declared the winner of last weekend's presidential run-off against Ahmed Shafik, another scion of the military establishment which has ruled Egypt for 60 years.

The celebrations continued through an unforgettable night after Morsy won by 3.5 percentage points or some 880,000 votes.

Those in Egypt and beyond who feared a win for Shafik might have spelled the end of the Arab Spring acknowledged a triumph for the popular will, and for the army which accepted it. From Syria's opposition came word that Cairo was again a "source of hope" for a people "facing a repressive war of annihilation."

Conciliatory talk

Morsy, a 60-year-old engineer who studied in California and was jailed for his politics by Mubarak's secret police, took his first steps in public to quell some fears: "I am today a president for all Egyptians," he said in an address after what he called "this historic moment, this luminous moment."

He repeated his respect for international treaties - a gesture to Israel.

Barack Obama called him. "The president underscored that the United States will continue to support Egypt's transition to democracy and stand by the Egyptian people as they fulfil the promise of their revolution," the White House said.

The bearded Morsy, smiling occasionally, echoed that in his televised speech, saying he would work with others to see the democratic revolution through: "There is no room now for the language of confrontation," he said.

Morsy, an obscure party official before being catapulted to prominence by the disqualification of the movement's preferred candidate, has little choice but to compromise, and sources in the Brotherhood said a package of agreements, already discussed with senior generals last week, could soon be announced.

Half of those who voted in last month's first round of the election backed neither Morsy nor Shafik and many who voted in the run-off voted negatively - either against Morsy's religious agenda or against Shafik as a symbol of military rule.

"We voted for Morsy reluctantly to prevent Shafik from getting in because if he were president, we would all be hanged," said Mohamed Abdel Latif, 28, a youth activist in the second city of Alexandria. "From today, we will oppose Morsy.

"The Brotherhood must remember that they won because of us and they shouldn't repeat the mistakes of the past."

Shafik, a former air force commander and Mubarak's last prime minister, offered his congratulations and said he was willing to serve in Morsy's administration if asked. Many Christians backed Mubarak PM.

The Brotherhood, conscious of playing a long game, was ready to play its part in a transition. They secured the lion's share in a parliament elected in January and, with the influence that offered over drafting a constitution, plus the presidency, would have been very much in the driving seat.

That was clearly too much for Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. With the help of a Mubarak-era judiciary, SCAF dissolved parliament on the eve of the presidential election and then gave itself the legislative power, adding also a potential role in forming a panel to write the constitution. It also revived some powers for martial law.

Critics at home and in the West called it a "soft coup."

Negotiations with army

Senior Brotherhood officials say they have been negotiating in the past week to change some of that. Though both sides deny that any deal was struck over the result of the presidential vote itself, Morsy's election now sets a key reference point around which a power-sharing compromise can be built while the process of constructing a constitutional democracy goes on.

"President Morsy and his team have been in talks with the military council to bring back the democratically elected parliament and other issues," Essam Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, told Reuters on Monday.

Brotherhood sources told Reuters they hoped the army might allow a partial recall of parliament and other concessions in return for Morsy exercising his powers to name a government and presidential administration in ways the army approves of - notably by extending appointments across the political spectrum.

Military officials have confirmed discussions in the past few days but had no immediate comment on the latest talks.

The Brotherhood has, movement officials said, approached secular reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei, a former U.N. diplomat and Nobel peace laureate, to take a senior post, possibly as prime minister. ElBaradei has not commented.

Brotherhood officials have said they will press on with street protests to pressure the army but this, along with a number of other contentious issues including to whom and where Morsy swears his oath of office, could be settled soon.

The army wants Morsy sworn in on June 30, meeting a deadline it set itself for handing over Egypt to "civilian rule."

"Nobody should doubt there is going to be deal-making," said analyst Shadi Hamid, director of the Brookings Doha Center. "The (SCAF) still has the tanks and guns and the Brotherhood still understands that. There has to be some temporary power-sharing agreement. There has to be give and take."



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