Morsi moves toward unity government

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iol news pic Mohammed Morsi AP In this photo released by Middle East News Agency, the Egyptian official news agency, President-elect Mohammed Morsi, shakes hands with a representative from the Coptic community, in Cairo.

Cairo - President-elect Mohammed Morsi tried to ease the turmoil that has rocked Egypt since the uprising 16 months ago, reaching out on Tuesday to Christians, women and secular revolutionaries to join his new Islamist-led government.

Even prominent opponents of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood gave cautious support for his effort to end military rule after the generals issued a series of last-minute decrees to try to keep their grip on power.

But it remained unclear how much power the military was willing to cede - and how much authority the Brotherhood ultimately intends to retain for itself.

Dina Zakariya, a Morsi campaign spokeswoman, said the only way forward is to create a national unity government that represents all political forces and all Egyptians.

“The country lived for so long in corruption. No single party can take full responsibility” for tackling the nation's problems, she said, adding that Morsi is serious about appointing a Christian and a woman as vice presidents and including a range of political factions in the Cabinet.

Morsi was declared the winner Sunday of the first free presidential election in Egypt's modern history, becoming the first Islamist and the first civilian to hold the office. Since then, backdoor negotiations on a power-sharing agreement between Islamists and the ruling military council have been ongoing.

The deeply polarizing race pitted Morsi against Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Many liberals who drove the uprising, as well as women and minority Christians were despondent over the choice between a vestige of the old regime and a candidate they fear might impose stricter Islamic law in Egypt and limit personal freedoms.

In an effort to assuage those fears, Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have floated the names of respected liberals, women and Christians to join his government. Among them is former nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading pro-democracy advocate.

Critics say the Muslim Brotherhood, which dominated in both parliamentary and presidential elections, is power hungry. They warn that if the Brotherhood does not create a broad-based government, it alone will be blamed for failing to fix the battered economy, surging crime and deteriorating social conditions in Egypt after a tumultuous transition to democratic rule.

“Morsi promised that the prime minister post will be assigned to an independent, not because the Brotherhood loves independents but because they fear failure,” said Mohammed el-Gebbah, a former Brotherhood member. “The burden is too heavy and they want someone to carry it with them.”

There are already disputes boiling between some revolutionary factions and the Brotherhood, with one prominent activist calling for a march to the presidential palace this week dubbed “Beer is our right” to protest any attempt by the new president to impose a religious state.

“We are happy to begin the path of getting rid of military fascism, but we also reject religious fascism,” Ahmed el-Bahar wrote in a Facebook posting. “If we don't seize our rights and practice them now, we will slowly turn into the Brotherhood state.”

On his second day at work at the presidential palace, Morsi invited protesters injured during the uprising and the families of those who were slain, and was photographed kissing their foreheads. He listened to their demands to hold retrials of old regime members implicated in the killings.

Mubarak and his interior minister were sentenced to life imprisonment for failing to stop the killings, while six of Mubarak's top police officials were acquitted on June 3, sparking angry demonstrations by many who fear Mubarak's verdict can be easily overturned on an appeal.

Morsi also received Egypt's top Coptic Christian official, Bishop Bakhamous, and promised “an open line” with Christians.

Media reports narrowed down names of possible candidates for prime minister.

At the top of the list were ElBaradei and economist Hazem el-Beblawi, a former deputy prime minister in the Cabinet formed after Mubarak's ouster, the Al-Akhbar state newspaper said. Morsi was also considering a leftist female political science professor and Christian lawmakers as vice presidents, it said.

Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political analyst from Al-Ahram center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were reaching out to liberals and others only to further their short-term goal of “getting rid of the generals.” In the long run, they will push for a more Islamic state and sideline liberals, he said.

He said the Muslim Brotherhood will keep control of the ministries that serve its “ideological platform and vision,” such as the ministries of justice, finance, and education.

As for the military, it will maintain its control over the key defense and interior ministries, El-Gebbah said.

The liberals and other political forces will fill the rest of the ministries. “If they succeed, it will be a success for the Brotherhood and if they fail, others share the failure,” Abdel-Gawad said.

He added that ElBaradei would pose a risk for the Brotherhood “because he doesn't compromise and at any moment he can just quit and leave if he doesn't agree with what is happening.”

The first front in Morsi's battle to wrest back power from the military will be his swearing in on Saturday. Traditionally, presidents take the oath of office at parliament, but the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament was dissolved by the ruling military council. The alternative would be to take the oath before the Constitutional Court, which is packed with judges appointed in the Mubarak era.

The venue will be a signal to revolutionaries whether their new president is willing to defy the powerful generals.

The Brotherhood is also pressing for the reinstatement of the dissolved parliament. But they suffered a setback on Tuesday when a court delayed ruling on an appeal to overturn the military council's order until after Morsi is sworn in on Saturday.

The Muslim Brotherhood and another Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, won more than 70 percent of parliament in a free election earlier this year. The parliament, according to Egypt's interim constitution, is tasked with forming a panel to write the constitution. Twice, liberals walked away from panels formed by the Islamist-controlled parliament, voicing fears that Egypt's new constitution would end up more Islamic.

Two days before the June 16-17 presidential runoff, the ruling council dissolved parliament after a court determined the parliamentary elections were illegal. As polls closed on June 17, it issued constitutional amendments that gave the military rulers legislative powers and control over drafting the constitution.

According to his spokesman Yasser Ali, Morsi held consultation with top legal and constitutional experts, trying to find a way out.

Activists also set up a website titled “Morsi Meter” to monitor the president's performance during his first 100 days in office. The April 6 group, composed of young liberals who helped lead the uprising, is transforming itself from a protest movement a lobby group, said its spokeswoman Injy Hamdi, “as a guarantor that no new dictator rules Egypt.”

“The time now is to help dismantle the old corrupt system not through street protests, but to offer a hand,” she said. “We will be a lobby group, monitoring the performance of the president. If he deviates from the path, we will be the first to oppose him, and return to the street.” - Sapa-AP


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