Packed Tahrir Square Celebrates New President

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Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi are in Cairo's Tarir Square celebrating their candidate's win in the presidential election. But questions remain about whether the new president will create an Islamist-dominated government. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson Guy Raz




RAZ: This was the reaction in Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier today after officials announced the results of the presidential election. For the first time in its history, Egyptians have democratically elected their own leader. His name is Mohammed Morsi.


RAZ: Morsi's supporters packed the square and set off fireworks. His election also marks the first time an Islamist has been elected as the leader of an Arab country. Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, and his victory is already making the country's powerful military rulers nervous. Our coverage begins with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: I'm at the entrance to Tahrir Square, and we have thousands of people still pouring into this already jam-packed square carrying flags, honking horns, as you're hearing, in great celebration. And it's kind of interesting because, actually, in this election, Cairo went for the president-elect's rival, but these are all the people apparently who voted for Mohammed Morsi and are very excited tonight.

RAZ: So what can you tell us about Mohammed Morsi, the new president?

NELSON: Well, he is a member - I should say was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He did resign upon being named president-elect. He was the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, which, of course, is their political branch and which dominated in parliament. They held nearly half the seats and, in fact, controls, you know, the agenda there to a large extent.

And he has claimed that he is going to be a president for all Egyptians, and he is not going to follow an Islamist agenda. But this is something many Egyptians don't trust. So they're - as much as they're in celebration, we're understanding, there are many more Egyptians who question what Egypt is going to look like.

RAZ: Soraya, how are the military rulers reacting to this? They have long opposed Mohammed Morsi.

NELSON: Yes. Well, tonight, the field marshal, Hussein Tantawi, who's the top military ruler, offered his congratulations. So they are accepting that this has happened. But certainly, in the last week, they put a lot of caveats in place to make sure that they retain power. They have - besides the fact that one of the high courts here dissolved parliament last week, they have also come out with a decree that basically allows them to share in legislative power while the parliament is dissolved and to have a lot of say in very key issues. So there is some question about whether Mohammed Morsi is going to be relegated to a largely ceremonial post.

RAZ: Soraya, Mohammed Morsi won this election by a narrow margin. Have you spoken to Egyptians who backed his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, who are nervous, who are worried, about a Mohammed Morsi presidency?

NELSON: Absolutely. There are many who say that they hope the military will conduct a coup in short order. They don't trust the Muslim Brotherhood. They're very concerned that an Islamist agenda is what is going to become Egypt's policy in the foreseeable future.

RAZ: Soraya, does this feel to you like the culmination of the revolution? Or does it feel like it's just another turning point, possibly for the worse or for the better?

NELSON: Well, we have to remember no matter, you know, what people might think about Mohammed Morsi, he is the first democratically elected president in this country's history. Many people feel that is, in fact, a good thing for the revolution. But having said that, a lot of the people who took part in this revolution kind of wonder where the revolution went.

I mean, the Brotherhood was not really a leading force in this when they were pushing Mubarak out. So there is a lot of question about whether the democratic goals and the freedoms that they sought will, in fact, come to be real here or whether we're going to slip into some sort of other oppressive situation where the Islamists are in control or where the military continues to be in control.

RAZ: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting for us from Cairo's Tahrir Square. Soraya, thank you so much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Guy.

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