Egypt has sworn in former defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sissi as its new president. This comes after a campaign season when his victory was never in doubt.
Sissi walked into the Supreme Constitutional Court in dark sunglasses Sunday morning. He then took the oath of office to booming applause from the mostly male, mostly graying public figures in the audience.
Interim President Adly Mansour stood beaming at his side and gave him a kiss on both cheeks after the ceremony.
“For thousands of years, Egypt has never witnessed a peaceful handover of power,” Sissi said in a televised statement. “For the first time, the elected president shakes hands with the outgoing President.”
Mass protests and military interventions on the side of the crowds ousted the last two Egyptian presidents. In July 2013 Sissi himself selected Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as Interim President. But during Mansour’s 11 months in office, Sissi – and by extension the military – was widely viewed as the primary decision-maker.
It was Sissi who led the popularly-supported military coup against democratically-elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the man who had appointed Sissi minister of defense.
For many Egyptians, today simply signifies a return to Egypt’s long tradition of having a military strongman at the helm. The Muslim Brotherhood sees Sissi as a traitor and more than a thousand of its supporters have been killed since Morsi was ousted. But Sissi’s supporters see him as a national savior who corrected the course of Egypt’s revolution. After three years of political turmoil and civil unrest, many, here, simply crave stability.
In last month’s election, Sissi won a landslide victory with 97 percent of the vote. There were more invalid ballots cast than votes for his only challenger, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi. That’s after Sissi presided over a widespread crackdown on dissent. Thousands of his political opponents sit in prison, and Egypt’s best-organized political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been declared a terrorist group.
There’s heavy security presence on Cairo’s streets today to facilitate celebrations of Sissi’s supporters and discourage protests. Army helicopters circle over downtown Cairo, as several thousand people dance and sing pro-military songs in Tahrir Square. Sissi’s campaign posters still adorn nearly every street corner–though his political opponents have splashed a number of them in blood-like red paint.
After he was sworn in, Sissi walked into the Presidential Palace to the booms of a 21-gun salute and the tunes of a military marching band. In his speech to visiting international dignitaries, he spoke passionately about the country he now leads.
“Egypt is the beating heart of Arabism, its thinking mind, the lighthouse of the Islamic world and a radiation point for religious studies and moderation,” Sissi said.
He’s coming into office as the country faces a burgeoning insurgency and a faltering economy. The economy has relied heavily on aid from Gulf countries, and during his speech Sissi encouraged other countries to attend a Saudi-led donor conference and “contribute in building a new Egypt.”
It’s not going to be easy. There have been daily power outages since February, and they’re getting worse as the sweltering summer heat rises. The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies see him as an illegitimate president. And if anything, the last three years have proven that Egyptian public opinion can change quickly.
The election was unquestionably Sissi’s to win, but he has challenges ahead.