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Morsi seeks to calm Egypt's fears over Muslim leadership

Abdel-Rahman Hussein

Egypt's president-elect says he will appoint a woman and a Coptic Christian as his deputies, as he allays concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt's new president-elect, Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi (right) shake hands with Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri in his new offices in the Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo. (AFP)

Sameh el-Essawy said that although the names of the two choices had not been finalised, they would be Morsi's two vice-presidents.

When the appointments go through, they will constitute the first time in Egypt's history that either a woman or a Coptic Christian has occupied such an elevated position in the executive branch.

The Muslim Brotherhood is at pains to calm fears of what an Islamist president might mean for Egypt and the region at large. Appointing both a woman and a Coptic Christian is an attempt at a show of unity, and a rule by consensus.

Defeated presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik – Mubarak's last prime minister and Morsi's rival in the runoff election – flew to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning with his two daughters. His camp denied that he had fled as investigations begin into allegations of corruption against him while minister of civil aviation. He was in Abu Dhabi for "tourism" purposes, they said.

Essawy also said that Morsi had no objection to swearing the presidential oath in front of the supreme constitutional court (SCC), widely seen as a controversial move after the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-majority Parliament by that very court a day before the run-off elections earlier this month. But, "that does not mean he [Morsi] acknowledges the dissolution of Parliament", said Essawy, a member of Morsi's former party, Freedom and Justice (FJP).

Flurry of decisions
Morsi's decisions come on a day that saw a flurry of court decisions and delays regarding several contentious issues, including the status of Parliament.

The Muslim Brotherhood's FJP has a 45% majority in the dissolved Parliament and is furiously contesting the SCC decision, taking the matter to the supreme administrative court. On Tuesday that court delayed its ruling on the dissolution of Parliament until July 7.

The court also delayed another decision, filed by the former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, against the recent constitutional declaration issued by Scaf, the ruling military junta, which limits presidential authority on a number of matters regarding national security. The court delayed its ruling on this case until July 10.

The constitutional declaration had stated that in the absence of Parliament, the president would swear the oath in front of the SCC. The vice-president of the SCC, Tahani el-Gibali, said the constitutional declaration was "the highest law in the land", though the court "had not yet been notified of any confirmation that this would take place".

An important ruling was handed down on Tuesday when an administrative court overturned a ministry of justice decree two weeks ago that allowed military authorities to arrest and detain civilians. Human rights groups had been furious about the decree, calling it a gross transgression of authority, and immediately filed a complaint to the Cairo administrative court.

Legal frenzy
To add to the legal frenzy, the administrative court delayed a ruling regarding the constitutionality of the constituent assembly - tasked with drafting Egypt's future and permanent Constitution – to September 1. This case rests on the fact that the assembly was elected by Parliament, which is now dissolved, therefore the assembly could have the same fate.

Morsi filled his second day as president-elect with meeting a number of state officials, including the current interior minister, in an attempt to build bridges with a police force that was the initial spark of the January 25 2011 revolt leading to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Morsi also met the sheikh of al-Azhar, Egypt's highest religious institution.

The president-elect continues to deliberate with the military and other political forces over the formation of his Cabinet, which is expected to be led by an independent national figure and would not have an FJP majority.

In a populist move, Morsi's camp has announced that 750 000 government employees hired on temporary contracts – their status remaining that way for years – would be handed permanent contracts from the beginning of July. This has been a long-standing complaint of government workers, including ambulance service staff who has been intermittently protesting over the past year.

One of Morsi's first directives was to ban the tradition of hanging presidential portraits in all government buildings. – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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