CAIRO // Before cheering throngs in Tahrir Square, Egypt's president-elect Mohammed Morsi pledged yesterday to serve as "a president for all Egyptians" and said his legitimacy as a leader stems solely from the support of the people.
"There is no power above the power of the people," he said. "Today you are the source of this power. You give this power to whoever you want and you withhold it from whoever you want."
In a triumphant speech full of theatrical touches, Mr Morsi pre-empted his official swearing-in today by delivering a symbolic open-air oath of office from the centre of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago. He referred to the official ceremony as "a formality" compared to his true coronation in Tahrir.
"You are the source of all authority and all legitimacy," he shouted from the main stage in the square, surrounded by a very presidential-looking phalanx of security guards. "I am the decision maker now because of the will of the people."
Mr Morsi displayed more charisma yesterday than many of his detractors believed he possessed. The longtime Muslim Brotherhood official, an engineer by training, has long had a reputation as a slightly uninspiring personality who was pressed into service as a candidate only because the more charismatic first-choice Brotherhood candidate, Kheirat Al Shater, was disqualified on a technicality. Mr Morsi's entry into the race as Mr Al Shater's late replacement even earned him a derisive nickname during his campaign: the spare tyre.
But yesterday, Mr Morsi was animated and magnetic, rallying the crowds and gesturing energetically. In a moment of grand political theatre, he opened his suit jacket to display that he was not wearing a bulletproof vest for protection while his bodyguards tried to disguise their looks of horror.
"I come here as one of you. I have nothing to protect me from anyone," he said. "I fear no one but God."
Mr Morsi's symbolic Tahrir Square oath of office was clearly meant to defuse some of the controversy surrounding what critics say was his first major concession to the military and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or Scaf. By tradition and law, Egypt's presidents are sworn into office in front of the Parliament. But the People's Assembly, the lower house of parliament that is controlled by the Brotherhood, was dissolved by court order just days before the June 16-17 presidential run-off. The Muslim Brotherhood refuses to accept the legitimacy of the ruling, calling it a politicised verdict engineered by Scaf.
The struggle over the status of parliament remains a topic of open conflict. But state media reported that Mr Morsi had agreed to instead swear today's oath in front of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court. It is a small concession, but a heavily symbolic one - which critics are already charging represents a crucial surrender to Scaf's will.
In his speech, Mr Morsi did not mention Scaf by name, but made it clear he intends to resist a recent decree by the ruling generals to curb the powers of the president and establish the military as a powerful de facto fourth branch of government essentially free from civilian oversight.
"I promise you that I will not give up on any of the powers given to the president," he declared.
Mr Morsi's speech contained several statements clearly designed to reassure nervous secular activists, women and minority Christians - who fear a Brotherhood plan to strictly impose Islamic law.
He said he envisioned Egypt as a civil state, not a religious one, and pledged to combat corruption and social injustice. He also said he planned to re-establish Egypt as a beacon of both scientific research and artistic creativity. He also hinted at greater independence in Egypt's foreign policy going forward, a possible reference to a willingness to break from Mubarak's policy of sticking closely to the regional interests of the United States.
"I will look after the interests of the people and protect the independence of the nation and the safety of its territory," he said.