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Before being formally sworn in as Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi read the oath of office in Cairo's Tahrir Square in front of tens of thousands of Islamist supporters.
In an attempt to assuage fears of Islamist rule, Morsi has met with Egypt's Christian leaders and promised to appoint a Christian as one of his vice presidents.
A Profile of Egypt's New President
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi was sworn in as Egypt’s first freely elected president on June 30, taking his oath of office in front of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court. He defeated former general and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in a run-off election earlier last month by nearly 900,000 votes, taking 51.7 percent of the total.
Since the ruling generals stripped the presidency of many of its powers in recent weeks, Morsi takes office without a clear picture of his authorities. But he begins his term with the first real popular mandate in Egypt’s history, and has indicated that he will wield this mandate to wrest control from the military.
“The elected institutions will come back to play their role and the Egyptian armed forces, Egypt’s great army, will go back to its main job to maintain and safeguard the borders,” Morsi said in his first speech as president at Cairo University.
Professor and Politician
The 60-year old Morsi was born in a small village in Egypt’s northern Sharqiya province. He spent much of the early 1980s in the United States, earning a doctorate in engineering from the University of Southern California, and working as a professor at California State University, Northridge. In 1985, Morsi returned to Egypt to continue his teaching career at Zagazig University.
In 1992, Morsi joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a member of its political division. By 2000, he was elected to Egypt’s parliament. Because the Muslim Brotherhood was an illegal organization at the time, Morsi ran as an independent. However, numerous Brotherhood candidates were elected to parliament in this way, and Morsi served as their leader.
In 2005, Morsi left his role in parliament to become a member of the Guidance Bureau, the highest decision-making body in the Muslim Brotherhood. In this position, Morsi was the Brotherhood’s sole liaison to the regime’s security apparatus, ensuring that the Brotherhood could gradually expand its power and political activities.
During this time, Morsi demonstrated for Islamist causes and was frequently detained by the regime. In 2006, he was arrested for protesting outside a judicial complex in central Cairo and ended up spending seven months behind bars. As recently as January 2011, Morsi was imprisoned for his role in the “Friday of Anger” protests against former President Hosni Mubarak.
After Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, Morsi became the chairman of the Freedom and Justice party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. When Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater was disqualified from the elections on a technicality, Morsi emerged to take his place.
Since being declared president, Morsi has struck a conciliatory tone both with the international community and with various Egyptian groups wary of his presidency: liberals, Egypt’s Coptic Christians, etc. But his past rhetoric – on the campaign trail and beforehand – is much less positive and reassuring.
Thus, on the one hand, Morsi conveyed to the world “a message of peace as well as righteousness and justice” on the day of his inauguration. He has said that Egypt “will establish balanced relations with the entire world community, relations based on mutual interests and respect between equal parties,” and has pledged that under his leadership, Egypt would “respect the international treaties and conventions we signed,” without explicitly mentioning the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Morsi has vilified Israel on multiple occasions, calling Israeli leaders “vampires” and “killers.” A “founder-member of the Egyptian Resist the Zionist Project Committee” according to his profile on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, in July 2011 he accused the “Zionists” of “seeking to destroy Egypt because they believe the revolution is more dangerous for them than a nuclear bomb.”
Morsi has stressed that the Palestinian issue will be central to Egypt’s foreign policy going forward. And he has made it clear that he considers Israel to be in violation of the Camp David Accords, given the absence of an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In addressing the Egyptian population, Morsi has sought to assuage fears of Islamist rule. Speaking at Cairo’s Tahrir Square after his victory was announced, he promised to be the “president of all Egyptians.” Morsi’s policy advisor later said that he would appoint a woman as one of his vice presidents and a Christian as another, though Morsi had previously argued for banning women from the presidency.
An Accidental President
Not known for his gravitas or charisma, Mohammed Morsi was thrust into his position as a presidential candidate essentially by accident. Now in the limelight as the leader of the Arab world's most populous country, he faces a colossal set of political, economic and social problems. And he must weigh past statements and positions against the realities of governing given these problems. It remains to be seen how Morsi will act.
AIPAC Diamond Summer Intern Jacob Grossman contributed to this report.