Egypt's new leader claims revolution's mantle

Associated Press Modified: July 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Standing before tens of thousands of adoring supporters in Tahrir Square, President Mohammed Morsi opened his jacket in a show of bravado to prove he was not wearing a bullet-proof vest. The message was clear: He has nothing to fear because he sees himself as the legitimate representative of Egypt's uprising.

In the week since he was named president, Morsi has portrayed himself as a simple man, uninterested in the trappings of power and refusing to take up residence in the presidential palace

His speeches reveal a populist bent, filled with generous promises many are skeptical he can keep. And although he began as an awkward and uninspiring speaker, Morsi appears to be striving to reinvent his uncharismatic public persona.

After eking out a narrow victory in last month's runoff, Morsi has claimed the mantle of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak last year.

But his Muslim Brotherhood did not join the uprising until it had gained irreversible momentum. And its critics say the Islamic fundamentalist group has hijacked the movement that was led by secular and liberal youths, and abandoned demonstrators during deadly clashes with security forces in the months that followed Mubarak's February 2011 ouster.

Morsi's moves are an attempt to make up for the way he came to power, narrowly defeating Mubarak's last prime minister in a runoff that had just a 51 percent turnout, said Karima Kamal, a minority Christian activist and writer.

"He knows that he did not come to power because voters liked him. But the general impression in the street now is that he is a kind and simple man who came from a simple family. This is reassuring to many people," she said.

A U.S.-trained engineer who lectured at a Nile Delta university, Morsi, 61, has none of the grandeur or name recognition of his predecessors.

Mubarak was a decorated war hero who was in office long enough to become a global household name. Anwar Sadat was the darling of the West, disengaging Egypt from decades of dependence on the Soviet Union and making peace with Israel. Gamal Abdel-Nasser was an Arab nationalist and an anti-colonialist hero who commanded respect and admiration across the Arab world.

Morsi, by contrast, was only months ago a little-known Islamist politician with no oratorical skills, no history of military prowess and no international standing. Still, he may represent a change in style and substance that Egyptians are ready for after millions took to the streets in last year's stunning uprising.

Columnist Salama Ahmed Salama said Morsi has made progress in the relatively short time he has been in the limelight.

"What we see now is a much more daring, open and talkative personality than the conservative and introverted Morsi we knew before," he said. "He is doing his best to fill the seat, but it is hard for him."

On Sunday, his first full day as president, Morsi decreed a 15 percent salary bonus to state employees and substantially raised the state stipend for the poorest in what many saw as a return to Mubarak's tactic of trying to appease the population of 85 million, nearly half of whom live in poverty.

During his speech Friday in Tahrir Square, Morsi roused the crowd with his loud words and constant finger-wagging. When he opened his jacket in a dramatic gesture — "I fear no one but God," he declared — he was surrounded by 12 burly security officers.

Still, some maintain this is the authentic Morsi.

"When he lifted his jacket and moved closer to the people, to speak to them directly, I felt he was trying to claim leadership ... for himself as Mohammed Morsi, not the Muslim Brotherhood man," columnist Emadeddin Hussein wrote in the independent el-Shorouk daily.



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