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Egypt election results fill Tahrir Square with joy

Tens of thousands gather to celebrate the victory of Egypt's first Islamist president. But the realists in the crowd acknowledge hard work ahead.

June 24, 2012|By Reem Abdellatif, Los Angeles Times
  • Egyptians celebrate the election of Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Egyptians celebrate the election of Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Daniel Berehulak, Getty…)

CAIRO — Egyptians wept and hugged as fireworks exploded in Tahrir Square and their world suddenly changed.

Tears in their eyes, men, in some cases accompanied by their families, congratulated one another as throngs pushed in on roads and bridges leading from the Nile. In all, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the square to celebrate the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi as the nation's first Islamist president.

Although many in the crowd were ecstatic, others acknowledged that they were bracing for the struggle to come as Morsi inherits a country with a battered economy and ruling military still very much in power after President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow 16 months ago.

The square — the battered, graffiti-streaked epicenter of Egypt's popular revolt — is where Egyptians have flocked to pour out their joy over the election results and their grievances about the military.

"The military council is trying to distract us with the news of Morsi's win. We haven't forgotten our demands and we aren't leaving until they're all met," said Samir Shaaban, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter.

Shaaban, sipping hot tea in the shade of his tent in the square, boasted that more buses of supporters were coming to join the sit-in from across Egypt.

While military helicopters hovered overhead, demonstrators chanted mockingly: "Tantawi, tell the truth. Is Morsi your president?" in reference to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.

Congratulating people as tears filled her eyes, Rasha Saher, 38, a self-proclaimed independent activist from Cairo, said she couldn't believe Egypt finally elected a civilian president. Wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and no veil, Saher stood noticeably apart from the predominantly conservative crowd in Tahrir.

"These elections say that we as Egyptians are siding with justice against anyone from the old regime," Saher said as a group of Muslim Brotherhood supporters cheered and danced in circles behind her.

Just over a week ago, as polling stations closed, the military council issued a constitutional declaration that would strip the president of most of his powers and give the generals legislative authority, oversight in the drafting of the constitution and the right to declare war.

For the last three days, Muslim Brotherhood supporters, joined by revolutionary activists, including the April 6 Youth Movement, protested in the square, saying they would engage in a sit-in until the military council handed over full powers to the president and restored the Islamist-dominated parliament that this month was disbanded by the nation's highest court.

Mohamed Beltagy, a member of the Brotherhood's political arm, told Egyptian state media the protests would continue until all of the revolution's demands were met.

"We won't make the same mistake we made in February 2011," he said, referring to when Egyptians disbanded their previous Tahrir sit-in after Mubarak resigned and the military assumed power.

Despite the Brotherhood's vows, many doubt its intentions, accusing leaders of striking deals with the military.

"Both SCAF and Brotherhood have [economic] interests in cracking down on mobilization in the street especially over the next months," said Ziad Akl, a senior analyst at Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"Now that they have the support of April 6 Youth, street protests will be almost nonexistent," he said, predicting that after further negotiations with the military, the Brotherhood might end the sit-in by Friday.

Several youth and rights advocates also remained skeptical of the Brotherhood's insular nature and dogmatic views.

"As [the Muslim Brotherhood] is taking over Egypt, the struggle for human rights, women equality and individual freedoms will remain my top priority," human rights advocate Dalia Ziada, director of Ibn Khaldun Center for Democratic Studies, said on her Twitter account.

Abdellatif is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this report.

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