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Islamist Morsi Sworn In as Egypt's President

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Islamist Mohammed Morsi promised a "new Egypt" and unwavering support to the powerful military as he took the oath of office Saturday to become the country's first freely elected president, succeeding Hosni Mubarak who was ousted 16 months ago.

In a solemn inauguration ceremony before the Supreme Constitutional Court, Morsi also became the Arab world's first freely elected Islamist president and Egypt's fifth head of state since the overthrow of the monarchy some 60 years ago.

"We aspire to a better tomorrow, a new Egypt and a second republic," Morsi said before the black-robed judges in the court's Nile-side headquarters built to resemble an ancient Egyptian temple.

"Today, the Egyptian people laid the foundation of a new life - absolute freedom, a genuine democracy and stability," said Morsi, a 60-year-old U.S.-trained engineer from the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that has spent most of the 84 years since its inception as an outlawed organization harshly targeted by successive governments.

He later delivered his inauguration address at a gigantic Cairo University lecture hall packed with several thousands, including many members of the Islamist-dominated parliament dissolved by the military earlier in June.

Morsi repeated his oath of office and lavishly praised the military, which has rushed a series of decrees this month that stripped Morsi of significant powers, gave it legislative power and took control of the process of drafting a permanent constitution. It has also retained its influence on key domestic and foreign policy issues.

"The armed forces are the shield and sword of the nation," he said. "I pledge before God that I will safeguard that institution, soldiers and commanders, raise its prestige and support it with all the powers available to me so it can be stronger."

But Morsi also appeared later in the address to urge the military to hand over all powers to his elected administration.

"The (ruling) Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has honored its promise not to be a substitute for the popular will and the elected institutions will now return to carry out their duties as the glorious Egyptian army returns to being devoted to its mission of defending the nation's borders and security," he said.

Morsi used his Cairo University address to send an implicit message of reassurance to Israel, while also pledging support for the "legitimate rights" of the Palestinians.

He said his administration would continue to honor its international treaties - a thinly veiled reference to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Relations between the two neighbors have become particularly tense since last year's overthrow of Mubarak, who had forged close ties with the Jewish state during his 29-year rule. The rise to power of Egyptian Islamists has been a source of alarm among many Israelis.

In another sign of the change of style, Morsi began his address at Cairo University with an apology to students whose final exams had to be postponed to allow the ceremony to be held at the main campus. He was given an official welcome at the university with a military band playing the national anthem as he stood at attention.

Morsi took a symbolic oath Friday in Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising that ended Mubarak's authoritarian rule last year, and vowed to reclaim presidential powers stripped from his office by the military council that took over from the ousted leader.

Morsi's speech Friday in Tahrir Square was filled with dramatic populist gestures. The 60-year-old president-elect staked a claim to the legacy of the uprising and voiced his determination to win back the powers stripped from his office by the generals.

He also told the crowd at Tahrir Square that he'd work for the release of a blind sheik imprisoned in the U.S. for a plot to blow up New York landmarks.

New York Mayor Michae Bloomberg says he would oppose any effort to "undermine" the sheik serving a life sentence. He says the sheik's conviction was a measure of justice against a man "who tried to kill so many."

The sheik was the spiritual leader of those convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Supporters have called for him to be repatriated to Egypt on humanitarian grounds.

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