x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Morsi sends all the right signals in his first days

Mohammed Morsi faces plenty of challenges, but he is off to a good start in trying to win broad civilian support.

Mohammed Morsi is off to an encouraging start as quasi-president of Egypt. In the hectic days since he was declared the election winner, he has focused on assembling support for the coming contest with the military.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) made a deft pre-emptive strike during the presidential campaign, amending the constitution to strip away many presidential powers. Mr Morsi will need all the moral support he can get as he threads his way through the minefield of building civilian consensus in order to tame the generals, who have been the real power in Egypt for decades.

Many of Egypt's voters remain deeply unenthusiastic about having a president from the Muslim Brotherhood. Rhetoric and promises will not vanish that concern, but look at what Mr Morsi has done:

To avoid an immediate clash with the Scaf, he agreed to take the oath of office, on Saturday, before the High Constitutional Court, as required by the June 17 constitutional decree. But he had taken the same oath on Friday in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of change in Egypt, and there he said he sees Egypt as a civil state, not a religious one.

He has also shown that he wants to be seen as president of, and for, all Egyptians. His five deputies, his aides say, will include a woman, someone from the Coptic minority, and "a member of the youth". He has used what little budget authority he has to give civil servants a bonus and raise pensions. In addition, Mr Morsi has sent Egypt's neighbours a signal they will welcome: "We do not export revolution, we do not interfere in the affairs of … other people or nations."

There were unconfirmed reports that other political parties had been offered Cabinet posts. Al Masry Al Youm newspaper said the prime ministry had been offered to Mohamed El Baradei.

It is all plainly intended to calm people down - and it seems to be working. Egypt's financial markets have rebounded from pre-election jitters, and an Islamic Development Bank loan just came through.

Calm will not endure. Over the Cabinet, if nothing else, the military can be expected to push back.

But for all his consensus-building, Mr Morsi was adamant in his Tahrir Square address: "Everyone hear me now, the people, the army, the police and the Cabinet. No authority is above the people's authority. You are the owners of authority."

To make that true, Mr Morsi will need all the civilian consensus he can muster. But so far, so good.