Morsi, 60, who was himself detained for anti-government activism under his predecessor’s autocratic rule, called on Egyptians to forget the “ugly pages” of the past. In a speech at the University of Cairo, he commended the ruling generals for steering the country during a trying transitional period, eliciting applause from the graying, uniformed officers seated in the front rows.
If Morsi’s relationship with Egypt’s revered military is to become an unlikely marriage of convenience, as many Egyptians foresee, both sides pulled off flawless ceremonies marking the union Saturday with words of praise for the generals from Morsi and reverential gestures, a military parade and a 21-gun salute for him from the generals. But it is a relationship that will be tested by myriad unresolved questions and challenges over the next months and years.
“It’s a very symbolic moment and a very emotional moment for some people,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt expert at the Century Foundation in New York. “But when you peel away the layers of symbolism, the stark reality remains the same. The battle for civilian authority will last years.”
Morsi is the first president in Egypt who does not hail from the armed forces. He is also the most powerless in the country’s history, as a result of a constitutional decree the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued last month stripping the president of his role as commander in chief. This makes it all but certain that the generals and Morsi will clash as Egypt’s power spheres, which for decades propped up a dictator, are reshaped to fit a de facto power-sharing deal.
Morsi took the oath in the Constitutional Court building before judges who recently issued a ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament that was elected late last year. Morsi contested the legitimacy of that ruling and pledged to take the oath in parliament. He lost that battle, but not before reciting a symbolic oath the day before in a packed Tahrir Square, the Egyptian revolution’s center stage and battleground.
“I will work to guarantee the independence of these powers and authorities,” a solemn Morsi told the country’s top jurists during Saturday’s swearing-in, which the military leaders did not attend.
The ceremony was held just a few blocks from a military hospital where ousted president Hosni Mubarak is reportedly receiving medical care. The name of the man who led Egypt for nearly three decades was barely mentioned Saturday. The once ubiquitous portraits of the imposing statesman with jet-black hair and a stern glare have all but vanished from the capital he ruled until he was pushed out on Feb. 11, 2011.