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Despite Election, Egypt's Military Wields Real Power


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The next leader of Egypt promises he will be president of all Egyptians. That's a vital promise for Mohammed Morsi to make and it addresses an issue on which he will be closely watched.

MONTAGNE: Morsi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. And yesterday the Islamist was declared the winner of a close election. He will preside over a country with a wide range of people and a significant Christian minority.

INSKEEP: He will not, however, wield much authority after the office was weakened by the military council that still holds true power.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: No one will accuse Mohammed Morsi of being destined to lead the Arab world's largest country. He wasn't even a candidate until the Muslim Brotherhood's first choice was disqualified at the eleventh hour. As a full week went by after his runoff against former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, anxiety grew about possible fraud. Then the elected parliament was dissolved, and the military reserved vast swaths of presidential and legislative power to itself.

So when the election commission announced that Morsi had in fact won with nearly 52 percent of the vote, it was hard to tell if Tahrir Square was erupting in joy or relief.


KENYON: For a moment, the conspiracy theories about a military soft coup and a resurgent Mubarak regime were overwhelmed by the shock of realizing that for the first time ordinary Egyptians had actually chosen their own leader.

For a moment, 39-year-old Mohammed Zakareya dared to voice his hopes.

MOHAMMED ZAKAREYA: (Through translator) I'm the happiest man on Earth today. Not because Morsi won, but because the revolution won. I'm hoping Egypt can someday get out of the dark ages, get away from all this corruption and theft and start a new era, when we can be more like Europe or America.

KENYON: But as the smoke from the fireworks cleared, Egyptians reminded themselves that the revolution hadn't won. The parliament remains dissolved and the military, dominated by figures from the old regime, still holds all the levers of power.

In his first address as president-elect, Morsi said many of the things his critics were hoping to hear. He promised to uphold international treaties, something of great concern to Israel. He thanked the army and the police. And he promised to support the rights of women and minorities. And he said those who gave their lives for Egypt's revolution will not have died in vain, if the country can unite behind goals of development and social justice.

MOHAMMED MORSI: (Through translator) And the revolution is still going on until all these goals are met. Together we will continue this journey.

KENYON: Former lawmaker Mona Makram Ebeid represents two groups that are nervous about a Muslim Brother as president - women and Coptic Christians. She remembers this spring's attempts by Islamists in the now-dissolved parliament to roll back women's rights.

MONA MAKRAM EBEID: If we see the past performance in parliament, there was a vicious attack against all the acquisitions that women had for the past hundred years. So he has to be true to his pledges and he has to be the president of all Egyptians.


KENYON: At another rally some distance from Tahrir Square, supporters of Ahmed Shafiq showed no sign of heeding Morsi's call for national unity. Forty-year-old Mohammed Ahmed said he didn't doubt that Morsi got more votes than his candidate, but he believes Morsi will be terrible for Egypt and he wants the army to step in.

MOHAMMED AHMED: (Through translator) Of course there is no fraud. But the will of the people, in my opinion, is driving Egypt to a disaster. I hope the army intervenes and stages a coup or something like that.

KENYON: Analyst Michael Wahid Hanna, at the Century Fund, says even if Morsi manages a short-term truce with the military, Egypt now faces a protracted struggle for civilian control of political power.

Back in Tahrir Square, some of Egypt's young revolutionaries agree that the military council, known by its acronym SCAF, won't cede political power unless it's forced to.

Twenty-three-year-old Ahmed Abdel Hakim says Morsi has one thing right - the revolution isn't over.

AHMED ABDEL HAKIM: We were sitting in the square until we have all our rights from the SCAF. We're not leaving. We're not leaving. We're not leaving.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.