Egyptian protesters gather before the stage where Egyptian President-elect… (Khaled Elfiqi, European…)
Los Angeles Times
CAIRO — President-elect Mohamed Morsi of Egypt joined tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday to celebrate his victory and keep pressure on the nation's ruling generals to restore the parliament and hand power over to a civilian government.
Morsi's appearance in the sweltering square defied the ruling military council and came before his scheduled swearing-in Saturday as the first freely elected president in the country's history. But much of his authority has been curtailed by an army that has seized legislative and executive powers to prevent Islamists from controlling the government.
"Revolutionaries, we will continue the path," said Morsi, who ran as a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood. "We will go on ... to a civil state, a constitutional state, a modern state."
Morsi entered the square after Friday prayers to show solidarity with secular revolutionaries and activists who worry that his presidency will not meet the democratic ideals of the rebellion that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year. In recent speeches, Morsi, an American-educated engineer, has promised a commitment to civil liberties for women, Christians and other non-Muslims.
On Friday, he repeatedly stressed sovereignty and unity and he spoke of reviving Egypt's ancient glory with new strides in research, industry and development. In a reference likely to chafe relations with the Washington, Morsi said he would work to free Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, serving life sentences in North Carolina after being convicted for planning terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 1995.
The mention of Rahman appeared not to be in the text of his speech; it came during Morsi's pledge to release protesters and other civilians held in Egyptian military custody. The president, looking down at posters of the sheik, said he would make "all efforts to free" prisoners, including Rahman.
Morsi will take the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court, the same body that this month dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament over voting irregularities. The disbanding of parliament, where the president is usually inaugurated, has moved the ceremony to the court. Activists oppose the venue, saying it validates a corrupt institution loyal to the army's efforts at weakening the new government.
"A full revolution or nothing. Down, down with military rule," protesters chanted amid banners and T-shirts emblazoned with Morsi's image. "We, the people, are the red line."
Morsi has been pressing the generals to restore the parliament and repeal a constitutional amendment that gives the army presidential powers, including the approving a national budget, overseeing the military leadership and declaring war. Legal battles over these issues and the drafting of a constitution are expected to play out over weeks and months as Morsi and the military each maneuver for authority.
His visit to the square — the epicenter of the uprising that deposed Mubarak — was a symbolic move to remind the army that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood can rally thousands to the street. That, however, is the strongest challenge the new president can summon against an entrenched old guard that appears unwilling to bow to a new political order.
"I will be with you. I will work for you," Morsi said to a cheering crowd. "My doors will never be closed I welcome you."
Special correspondent Reem Abdellatif contributed to this report.