Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi began his first full day in office on Sunday, but with his powers sharply circumscribed by the military that has ruled since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power last year.
After being sworn in as the country’s first freely elected civilian president on Saturday, Morsi formally received a transfer of power and pledge of support from the military.
But the 60-year-old’s swearing-in ceremony took place at the constitutional court in Cairo, despite Morsi’s wish that it take place before the now disbanded Islamist-led parliament.
The military dissolved parliament last month following a court order in what the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi stood down after his election, described as a “soft coup.”
In Saturday’s handover at Cairo’s Hike Step base, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), vowed to support the Islamist Morsi.
“We will stand with the new president, elected by the people,” Tantawi said in a speech after an honour guard parade and a helicopter fly-past.
He bestowed upon the new president the highest military honour, “the shield of the armed forces,” and Morsi thanked the military, also pledging to support it.
“I accept the transfer of power,” Morsi said at the same base where members of the once-banned Brotherhood had faced military trials under Mubarak.
However, the ritual masked a political impasse ripe for future confrontation.
The SCAF assumed legislative powers after it disbanded parliament and also formed a powerful national security council headed by the president but dominated by the generals.
The military also reserves the right to appoint a new constituent assembly should the one elected by the old parliament be disbanded by a court decision expected on September 1.
The Brotherhood insists that only parliament can appoint the assembly.
After taking the oath of office on Saturday, Morsi in a speech at Cairo University pointedly mentioned the “elected parliament” several times and said the army should resume its normal role.
“The elected institutions will return to fulfilling their roles. And the great military will devote itself to the task of protecting the country,” he said.
He also put forward several of his international and domestic objectives, saying he would be a “servant of the people” in a “democratic, modern and constitutional state.”
Internationally, he said Egypt would back the Palestinians and he also called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Morsi had spoken out forcefully in support of Palestinians during his election campaign.
“I announce from here that Egypt, its people and presidential institution stand with the Palestinian people until they regain all their rights,” he said.
The Brotherhood is also vehemently opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and supports the uprising against him, now in its 16th deadly month.
“We support the Syrian people. We want the bloodshed to stop,” he said.
Morsi repeated that Cairo would respect its international treaties, in an allusion to Egypt’s 1979 peace accord with Israel — the first Arab nation to make formal peace with the Jewish state.
As president, he is not expected to radically change Egypt’s foreign policy, especially towards Israel, in which the military is expected to exercise its clout.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent a letter to Morsi, urging him to uphold a peace treaty between the two countries, a source told AFP on Sunday.
The letter, first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday morning, “stressed Israel’s desire to continue cooperation and to strengthen the peace,” an Israeli source said on condition of anonymity.
The letter was sent “in the last few days,” the source added, with Haaretz reporting that it was delivered to Morsi via the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
On Friday, speaking to tens of thousands of jubilant supporters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the revolt that ousted Mubarak, Morsi said he would insist on retaining all of the presidency’s powers.
“I renounce none of the prerogatives of president,” he told the crowd, adding: “You are the source of power and legitimacy.”
“There is no place for anyone or any institution… above this will.”
Media reports said Morsi was consulting a cross-section of Egyptian society before appointing a premier and a cabinet made up mostly of technocrats.
He was reported by most dailies as pledging there would be “no Islamisation of state institutions” during his presidency.
Morsi became the Brotherhood’s candidate to succeed Mubarak only after its first choice, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified. He beat Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last premier, with 51.73 percent of the vote.