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Egyptian president moves into Mubarak's old office

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

An Egyptian man reads a newspaper in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, June 25, 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt's first free presidential election Sunday, and he proclaimed himself a leader "for all Egyptians," although he faces a struggle for power with the country's still-dominant military rulers.

Bernat Armangue, Associated Press

CAIRO — The new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi moved first thing Monday morning into the office once occupied by his ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak and started work on forming a government even before he had a clear picture of what he could do after the ruling military stripped most of the major powers from his post.

The country breathed a sigh of relief that at least the question of who won the presidential runoff had been resolved on Sunday after the first free and fair elections in Egypt's modern history. People returned to work a day after a panic that sent many home early for fear that violence might erupt when the winner was announced. Traffic was flowing again through Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of last year's uprising and a major intersection that had been blocked for nearly a week by Morsi supporters protesting against the military's power grab.

Egypt's benchmark stock index closed with record gains of 7.5 percent in a sign of optimism after a president was named. And newspapers were brimming with upbeat headlines, after a week of rumors and scaremongering. "Morsi president on orders from the people: The revolution reaches the presidential palace," said a banner headline in independent daily Al-Shorouk.

"His priority is the stability on the political scene," said Yasser Ali, a spokesman for Morsi who said the president was in his office to consult on forming a new government and choosing his team.

Morsi, from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood group, is the first Islamist president of Egypt. He defeated Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in a tight race that deeply polarized the nation.

Now he faces a daunting struggle for power with the still-dominant military rulers who took over after Mubarak's ouster in the uprising.

The 60-year-old, U.S.-trained engineer comes into office knowing little about his authorities and what he can do to resolve security and economic crises and meet the high expectations from the country's first popularly elected leader.

The contours were emerging of a backroom deal between the military and the Brotherhood that led to the ruling military council blessing Morsi as president. One mediator said negotiations are still under way to hammer out political understandings.

Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, the head of the ultraconservative Islamist party Al-Nour, said in the week between the June 16-17 presidential runoff and the announcement of the winner on Sunday, many politicians tried to mediate between the Islamists and the generals to defuse a political crisis.

"There was an easing (of tension)" when the elections results came through, he said. But discussions are still under way to clarify the authorities of the president and the military. And one of the immediate sticking points is the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament by a court order, days before the presidential runoff.

As polls closed on June 17, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced constitutional amendments that shocked the Brotherhood and many other political activists who took part in the uprising 16 months ago.

The ruling generals gave themselves sweeping powers that undercut the authority of the president. That followed a government decision that granted military police broad powers to detain civilians. The military council, which promised to transfer power to an elected leader by July 1, said the moves were designed to fill a power vacuum and ensure that the president doesn't monopolize decision-making until a new constitution is drafted.

Two days before the runoff, a court packed with judged appointed by the Mubarak regime also dissolved the country's first freely elected parliament. The military council followed by declaring it was now in charge of legislating.

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