CAIRO: Egypt’s newly sworn-in president said Sunday there would be no reconciliation with anyone who had “committed crimes” or “adopted violence” against Egyptians, a thinly veiled reference to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.
Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was addressing a gathering at a Cairo presidential palace hours after he was sworn in as Egypt’s president before the Supreme Constitutional Court, in a ceremony marked by low-key attendance by Western allies concerned by a crackdown on dissent.
The 59-year-old career soldier did not mention the Muslim Brotherhood by name or supporters of Mohammad Morsi, the Islamist president he ousted in July after just a year in office.
Since Morsi’s ouster, authorities have staged a massive crackdown against the Brotherhood and other Islamists, killing hundreds and jailing close to 20,000 others. The government has banned the Brotherhood and labeled it a terrorist organization. Islamic militants have in the meantime stepped up attacks against troops and police in the strategic Sinai Peninsula after Morsi’s ouster and later took their campaign to the mainland.
“There will be reconciliation between the sons of our nation except those who had committed crimes against them or adopted violence,” Sisi said. “There will be no acquiescence or laxity shown to those who resorted to violence.”
Last month’s election, which officials said Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote, followed three years of upheaval since a popular uprising ended 30 years of rule by former Hosni Mubarak.
Security in Cairo was extra tight, with armored personnel carriers and tanks positioned in strategic locations as Sisi addressed foreign dignitaries after a 21-gun salute at Cairo’s main presidential palace.
Sisi called for hard work and the development of freedom “in a responsible framework away from chaos” but did not mention human rights or democracy.
“Throughout its extended history over thousands of years our country has never witnessed a democratic peaceful handover of power,” said Sisi, the sixth Egyptian leader with a military background.
Sisi called for “an inclusive national march” in a country that has been polarized since he ousted Morsi after mass protests.
Near Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the revolt against Mubarak where protesters now rarely tread, men sold T-shirts with the image of Sisi in his trademark sunglasses.
Commentators on state and private media heaped praise on him, turning a blind eye to what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, in the hope that he can deliver stability and rescue the economy.
Many Egyptians share that hope, but they have limited patience, staging street protests that toppled two leaders in the past three years, and the election turnout of just 47 percent shows Sisi is not as popular as when he toppled Morsi.
“Sisi has to do something in his first 100 days, people will watch closely and there might be another revolution. That’s what people are like in this country,” said theology student Israa Youssef, 21.
Morsi’s ouster was applauded by Egypt’s Gulf Arab allies, who were alarmed by the rise of the Brotherhood.Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait extended a lifeline exceeding $12 billion in cash and petroleum products to help Egypt stave off economic collapse after Sisi appeared on television and announced that the Brotherhood was finished.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged Egyptians this week to back Sisi and said they should disown “the strange chaos” of the Arab uprisings.
Kuwait’s emir, the king of Bahrain, and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and Sheikh Mohammad bib Zayed al-Nahyan respectively, attended Sisi’s inauguration, according to the Egyptian presidency. In contrast, the United States only sent a senior adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry while most European countries sent ambassadors.
“Just having ambassadors shows very clearly that while the governments are recognizing the new transfer of power they are certainly not doing so with a huge amount of enthusiasm,” said H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“It won’t mean much in terms of trade and cooperation, but it leaves a bit of a foul taste in people’s mouths.”
Diplomatic maneuverings pale as a problem for Sisi compared with an urgent need to fix state finances and tackle the Islamist insurgency to lure back tourists and investors.
The economy is suffering from corruption, bureaucracy and a widening budget deficit aggravated by fuel subsidies that cost nearly $19 billion a year.
Officials forecast economic growth at just 3.2 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1, well below levels needed to create enough jobs for a rapidly growing population and ease widespread poverty.
Child nursery employee Kamal Mahmoud, 25, said he was optimistic but would give Sisi only two years to bring change.
If he doesn’t succeed “he has no right to hold that position and he should join the others sitting in prison,” he said.
Parliamentary elections are expected later this year, but government opponents have been crushed and political parties weakened. Only one other candidate contested the presidential election. The military is unlikely to turn against Sisi unless mass street protests erupt.
“Sisi was the best option we had, so even if I still have worries about his stand on freedoms and even if he lets Mubarak’s people come back, he is still the best candidate for now,” said Mohammad Ahmad, an employee in a private firm.