CAIRO: Ex-army chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi vowed yesterday to build a stable Egypt as he was sworn in as president almost a year after he overthrew the country’s first freely elected leader.
The retired field marshal became Egypt’s second elected president since a popular uprising overthrew longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, unleashing more than three years of unrest.
Western countries alarmed by the brutal crackdown on dissent following Sisi’s July 3 ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi mostly sent low-level representatives to his inauguration.
In a speech to Arab royals, foreign dignitaries and Egyptian public figures at the presidential palace, Sisi said it was time “for our great people to obtain the fruits of their two revolutions”.
“The time has come to build a more stable future,” he said, after signing a power transfer with outgoing interim president Adly Mansour, a chief justice who Sisi had installed when he toppled Mursi.
Guests lined up to shake Sisi’s hand at the ceremony, which appeared choreographed to display regional support for the new president.
Many Egyptians view Sisi as the leader best suited to restoring stability and he scored a lopsided victory in a vote boycotted by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and secular dissidents, targeted by the army-installed government in a sweeping crackdown.
Soldiers and police deployed in force around Cairo in anticipation of protests by the battered Brotherhood movement and possible militant attacks.
No violence was reported. Hundreds of Sisi supporters celebrated by setting off fireworks at the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square, with its entrances guarded by armoured army vehicles.
Sisi took his oath at the Constitutional Court, next to the hospital where his predecessor Mubarak, 86, is being detained after being convicted of corruption.
Elite policemen stood guard outside the court as helicopters dropped posters of Sisi on well-wishers who turned up to see the former army commander.
Riding a wave of popularity since Mursi’s overthrow, Sisi won the May 26-28 election with 96.9 percent of the vote against his only rival, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi.
The nature of his election victory showed Sisi still enjoyed immense support for his overthrow of the Mursi, after millions held protests demanding an end to the Islamist’s turbulent year in power.
But the lower than anticipated turnout of about 47 percent denied him the overwhelming mandate he had called for ahead of the vote.
Sisi’s main challenges will be to restore stability and revive the economy after the three years of turmoil that followed a 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak.
Since Mursi’s ouster, the crackdown on his supporters has killed more than 1,400 people and left thousands behind bars, while militants have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.
Sisi’s opponents fear that under his rule Egypt will return to an autocratic regime, worse than under Mubarak.
In the run-up to the election, Sisi said that “national security” takes precedence over democratic freedoms. Sisi will be the fifth Egyptian president to rise from the ranks of the military, and is expected to reassert the army’s grip on politics.
Custodian of the Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia’s, who opposed the Brotherhood, called for a donor conference to help Egypt after the results were announced.
The oil kingpin was represented at inauguration ceremony by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, alongside the rulers of Kuwait and Bahrain.
State media said Sisi had meetings yesterday with the Saudi crown prince and Kuwaiti Emir HH Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah.
Western nations, which congratulated Sisi on his election win while stressing the importance of safeguarding human rights, sent low-level delegates or were represented by ambassadors at his swearing in ceremony.
Washington has voiced concerns about “the restrictive political environment” during the vote, urging Sisi to show “commitment to the protection of the universal rights of all Egyptians”.
Senior State Department official Thomas Shannon represented Washington at the palace ceremony.