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Islamist’s win in Egypt leaves U.S. uncertain
Obama congratulates Morsi, confers with rival
Egyptians celebrated Sunday the election of their country's first freely elected president - Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who becomes the first Islamist head of state of the Arab world's most populous nation.
Spontaneous displays of jubilation erupted throughout the capital, Cairo, after Egypt's election commission announced that Mr. Morsi had defeated Ahmed Shafiq, who served as prime minister before longtime President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.
Commission Chairman Farouk Sultan announced in Cairo that Mr. Morsi won 51.7 percent of the vote and Mr. Shafiq 48.3 percent in the June 16-17 runoff election that followed last month's presidential balloting.
Mr. Morsi assumes a post that has been largely stripped of authority by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military panel that has been ruling Egypt since Mr. Mubarak was forced to resign amid Arab Spring protests.
Uncertainty over the Brotherhood's intentions, especially how it will handle relations with the U.S. and Israel, has created unease in both countries.
White House spokesman Jay Carney offered congratulations to Mr. Morsi and the Egyptian people for "this milestone in their transition to democracy."
"We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens - including women and religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians," Mr. Carney said.
"The United States intends to work with all parties within Egypt to sustain our long-standing partnership as it consolidates its democracy. We believe it is essential for the Egyptian government to continue to fulfill Egypt's role as a pillar of regional peace, security and stability."
Mr. Obama called both Mr. Morsi and Mr. Shafiq on Sunday.
According to a White House readout of the call with Mr. Morsi, the U.S. president congratulated him and "underscored that the United States will continue to support Egypt's transition to democracy and stand by the Egyptian people as they fulfill the promise of their revolution."
In a separate phone call, Mr. Obama commended Mr. Shafiq on a "well-run campaign" and "encouraged [him] to continue to play a role in Egyptian politics by supporting the democratic process and working to unify the Egyptian people," the White House said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Jewish state "appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects its outcome."
Questions about the future
Mr. Morsi, who received a doctoral degree in engineering from the University of Southern California and has two children who were born in the United States, has criticized Egypt's relationship with the U.S.
"The Brotherhood has been clear that the strategic relationship, as it was configured under Mr. Mubarak, was not good for Egypt," said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
Under Mr. Mubarak, Egypt received about $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid, most of it intended for the military.
Brotherhood leaders also have spoken in favor of dissolving Egypt's 33-year-old peace treaty with Israel.
Noting that there will plenty of pressure on the Egypt-Israel relationship, Mr. Cook doesn't expect Mr. Morsi to break the peace treaty outright, saying "he can do a lot to empty whatever there is of the relationship of any content and meaning."
Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there are serious questions about the future direction of Egypt's foreign policy. But he warned that it would be a mistake for the U.S. to pull back from its engagement with a free and democratic Egypt.
"This is a time to test intentions, not to prejudge them," said the Massachusetts Democrat.
On recent visits to Cairo, Mr. Kerry said he had two "candid discussions" with Mr. Morsi in which the new president-elect had said he "understood the importance of Egypt's post-revolutionary relationships with America and Israel."
The election polarized Egyptians, who worried about Mr. Morsi's Islamist credentials and saw Mr. Shafiq as an extension of the Mubarak regime.
On its official Twitter feed, the Brotherhood announced that Mr. Morsi had begun talks to form his presidential team and a new Cabinet "that will truly represent Egypt after revolution."
"It's time now for unity and hard work to face challenges ahead," the Brotherhood said.
Mr. Morsi kept a pre-election promise by resigning Sunday from his posts in the Muslim Brotherhood, including that of chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party. He also has pledged that his leadership will be inclusive.
Mr. Morsi "will have to have to act as a catalyst for Egyptians so they can move ahead with drafting a 'civic' constitution," said Khairi Abaza, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Egyptian Wafd Party.
"Failing to do so can only lead to more chaos and instability," Mr. Abaza added.
The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned in Egypt since 1954, but its candidates participated in elections as independents.
Both Mr. Morsi and Mr. Shafiq earlier claimed victory in the election. The election commission then delayed a final announcement to investigate fraud claims made by both candidates.
The delay triggered protests by Morsi supporters who suspected that the military was trying to steal their candidate's victory.
"There really wasn't a question of whether the results were in dispute. The question was what are the rules of the road going forward between the Brotherhood, President Morsi and the military," said Mr. Cook, author of "The Struggle for Egypt." "Clearly, some sort of deal has been struck."
Earlier this month, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament must be dissolved because a third of its members had been elected illegally.
In a separate decision, the court rejected a law enacted by the parliament that prohibited former senior members of the Mubarak regime from running for office. That ruling paved the way for Mr. Shafiq to challenge Mr. Morsi.
In addition, the military gave itself powers that curbed the president's authority and put the generals in charge of overseeing the writing of Egypt's new constitution.
It also reinstated an emergency law that expanded police powers and suspended constitutional rights.
Analysts interpreted these moves as an attempt by the military to hedge against a Morsi victory, and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that they "appear to prolong the military's hold on power."
On Sunday, Mr. Carney commended the military for supporting "a free and fair election."
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.
Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.
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