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Egypt's President asserts authority, defends army

Posted: August 5, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:00 a.m.

Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, is to swear in a new Cabinet as tensions rise over the country's tenuous security, recent sectarian violence and popular discontent over issues such as widespread water and power outages.

 

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi on Saturday gave a lengthy speech to the army in praise of its role during the run-up to his election, proclaiming that he, his government and the powerful generals will cooperate for the future.

Speaking with the head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi by his side, and hundreds troops including generals in the audience, Morsi stressed his legitimacy as Egypt's first popularly elected president, but also acknowledged that his ascension to the office would have been impossible without the military's support.

The words signaled an understanding between him and the army, after initial tensions during Egypt's transition period since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, himself a former air force commander who led the country for three decades.

Just days before Morsi was declared president, the military council, headed by Tantawi, stripped him of significant powers and declared themselves as the country's legislative authority after dissolving a parliament dominated by Morsi's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The military, which took the reins of power after Mubarak was deposed in a popular uprising in early 2011, also has control over the process of drafting Egypt's new constitution.

But Morsi largely avoided those issues in the Saturday speech, focusing on the military's support for the election of a civilian president.

"The will of the people will never be against the armed forces," he said, in a thinly veiled reference to his own office. "It is with the armed forces' help, after God, that we will protect Egypt's interest internally and internationally."

He also said the armed forces remain a "cornerstone" in Egypt's relations with the international community, and a factor for the country's political and economic stability.

"This president is the supreme head of the armed forces because of the will of the people. I will not allow anyone to offend the armed forces or this nation, or try to obstruct this democratic path which you protected," he said.

Morsi promised he would respect the democratic process and future elections. Speaking to the generals, he said: "What I ask of you, rather what I order you, is to continue to support the democratic path in Egypt. This is important for you, your children and grandchildren."

Aside from the struggle to assert his powers, Morsi and his new government are now entangled in a web of social and economic problems that have festered over the months of transition.

He has taken his time to choose a prime minister and form a new government, in what appeared to be a process executed in close cooperation with the military.

The final lineup was largely made up of technocrats, but also included a number of Islamists and members of the Brotherhood.

In another development on Saturday that highlighted critiques over the new Cabinet, the acting leader of Egypt's Coptic Church criticized the new government for what he said was an "unfair" representation of Christians that ignores their rights.

The comments by Archbishop Pachomius, who represents the majority of the country's Christians — some 10 percent of a population of 82 million — were published in the independent daily Al-Shorouk.

They follow pledges from Morsi to reach out to Copts and women in forming a new government and presidential team, in order to reassure them it will not be dominated by Islamists. The new Cabinet sworn in Thursday had only two women, including the Coptic minister in charge of the scientific research portfolio.

Pachomius told Al-Shorouk the Cabinet was unfair because it underrepresented Christians. "It is unfair to Copts," he said. "We had expected an increase of Copts' representation in the new government, especially after increasing the number of portfolios to 35."

In the outgoing government, Copts held two posts in a 30-member Cabinet. It was a rate that was kept in most previous governments, with Coptic ministers holding small portfolios or ones dealing with non-strategic issues.

But the archbishop said that with the increase in posts, the community had expected no less than four Coptic ministers in the new government.

Morsi's new Cabinet has come under criticism from many, including women and youth groups, who felt underrepresented and see the new team as lacking a significant break with the past.

The ultraconservative Salafi groups, who backed Morsi's bid for the presidency and who had won around 25 percent of the seats in the now-dissolved parliament, also complained they were not consulted and declined to take part in the government after they were offered only one ministerial post.

The concerns of the Coptic minority have grown with the rise of Islamists to power because they fear their rights may be curtailed and that they could become targets of extremist Muslim attacks.

Local groups as well as the United States had urged Morsi to send reassuring messages and form a broad coalition government.

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