CAIRO — Egypt’s former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, winner by a landslide in last month’s presidential election, was sworn into office Sunday nearly a year after he ousted the nation’s first freely elected leader.
The retired field marshal called for unity and hard work, while vowing that there would be no reconciliation with those who took up arms against the government and Egyptians. That was a thinly veiled reference to supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the Islamist president el-Sissi removed last July, and Islamic militants waging attacks against the government.
“There will be reconciliation between the sons of our nation except those who had committed crimes against them or adopted violence,” el-Sissi said. “There will be no acquiescence or laxity shown to those who resorted to violence.”
He did not mention by name Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist group by the government last December. But el-Sissi’s rise coincides with detention of thousands and the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters.
El-Sissi also vowed to fight corruption and appeared to make an overture to pro-democracy and secular youth activists, many of whom boycotted last month’s presidential election. They accuse the new president of reviving toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s police state, pointing to a law passed last year that restricts protests as well as the jailing of a number of well-known activists.
He peppered his 55-minute address with references to “freedom, social justice and bread,” the main slogan by youth groups behind the January 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak’s 29-year rule.
El-Sissi’s July 3 ouster of Morsi triggered a cycle of deadly violence and further polarized Egypt. Now, el-Sissi faces the daunting tasks of reviving Egypt’s anemic economy, fighting Islamic militants and cementing his rule after three years of deadly turmoil in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Under his rule, el-Sissi said Egypt will work for regional security and stability. He also called on Egyptians to work hard so that their rights and freedoms could grow.
“Let us differ for the sake of our nation and not over it; let us do that as part of a unifying national march in which every party listens to the other objectively and without ulterior motives,” he said. “Let our differences be the source of enrichment, diversity and giving that add the spirit of cooperation and love to our work.”
El-Sissi’s inauguration came less than a year after he ousted Morsi following days of mass protests demanding he step down. He has been praised by many in a wave of nationalist fervor fueled by a jingoistic media, despite the harsh crackdown by security forces.
Supporters drew comfort from his ascension, convinced he is the right man for Egypt. Tens of thousands gathered into the night Sunday at Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising, to celebrate his inauguration.
“I feel like I’m breathing new oxygen,” said Mamdouh Ali Bilal, a retired army colonel who celebrated at Tahrir. “El-Sissi is bringing hope with him, unlike the Brotherhood people. They were like a dark room that makes us constantly afraid of what may be planned next for us.”
Yet Egypt’s recent, tumultuous history remained close by. El-Sissi, 59, took the oath of office at the Supreme Constitutional Court, the same venue where Morsi, now on trial for charges that carry the death penalty, was sworn in two years ago.
The court is a short distance away from a military hospital where Mubarak is being held. Mubarak was convicted last month on graft charges and sentenced to three years in prison. He is also being retried over the killing of protesters during the 18-day revolt after his original conviction and life sentence were successfully appealed.
El-Sissi also welcomed dozens of local and foreign dignitaries on hand for the inauguration, including the kings of Jordan and Bahrain, the emir of Kuwait and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest of the seven sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates.
The five Arab nations backed el-Sissi’s ouster of Morsi. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates since have provided billions of dollars to shore up Egypt’s ailing finances and are expected to give more while the country rebuilds.
El-Sissi won nearly 97 percent of the vote in last month’s election, with a turnout of 47.45 percent. The three-day election was declared free of fraud but was tainted by the extraordinary means used by authorities to get the vote out, including a threat to fine those who stayed home, a one-day voting extension, and allowing free rides on trains and buses to encourage voters to travel to their home districts to cast their ballots.
Morsi supporters boycotted the vote and have also called for massive demonstrations to mark Morsi’s July 3 ouster, though their ranks have thinned considerably.
Timeline: From uprising to Sissi
Feb. 11, 2011: Autocrat Hosni Mubarak steps down after 18 days of nationwide protests against his nearly 30-year rule. The military takes over, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution after the uprising leaves hundreds of protesters dead in clashes with security forces.
Nov. 28, 2011 - Feb. 15, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood wins nearly half the seats in multi-stage elections for the first post-Mubarak parliament, while ultraconservative Salafi Islamists take another quarter. The remainder goes to liberal, independent and secular politicians.
June 18, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsi defeats Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, with 51.7 percent of the vote in a runoff, taking office on June 30 as Egypt’s first freely elected president.
Aug. 12, 2012: Morsi removes the defense minister and military chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and replaces him with Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Nov. 22, 2012: Morsi unilaterally decrees greater powers for himself, giving his decisions immunity from judicial review and barring the courts from dissolving a panel charged with drafting a new constitution. The move sparks days of protests.
Dec. 15 - Dec. 22, 2012: Egyptians approve a constitution drafted and hastily passed by Islamists amid protests and walkouts by other groups, with 63.8 percent voting in favor but a low turnout of 32.9 percent.
June 30, 2013: On Morsi’s first anniversary in office, millions of Egyptians begin days of massive demonstrations demanding his resignation. The military gives him 48 hours to reach an agreement with his opponents, but he vows to remain in office.
July 3, 2013: El-Sissi announces Morsi’s removal, installing Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour as interim president.
Aug. 14, 2013: More than 600 people, mostly Morsi supporters, are killed when police clear two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo. Islamists retaliate by torching government buildings, churches and police stations. Hundreds more die in subsequent violence.
Aug. 19, 2013: Suspected Islamic militants kill 25 policemen in the Sinai Peninsula. Militant attacks escalate in Sinai over the following months, with shootings, bombings and suicide attacks against security officials and troops.
Sept. 23, 2013: An Egyptian court orders the Brotherhood banned and its assets confiscated.
Dec. 25, 2013: The government designates the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Jan. 25: Clashes between security forces and protesters on the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising kill least 49 people.
March 24: An Egyptian court sentences to death nearly 530 suspected Morsi supporters over a deadly attack on a police station, capping a swift, two-day mass trial in which defense attorneys were not allowed to present their case. The death sentences are reduced to 37 after review.
April 28: An Egyptian court sentences to death the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and 682 other people over violence and the killing of policemen. The verdict, which can be appealed, sparks an international outcry.
May 3: A three-week presidential campaign period begins. El-Sissi doesn’t appear in public rallies, instead holding meetings and giving pre-recorded television interviews. His rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, rallies around Egypt and has support from some youth groups.
June 3: Egypt’s Election Commission officially announces that el-Sissi has won the presidential elections with a landslide victory 96.9 percent of the vote. His sole rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, receives 775,000 votes, fewer than the 1.4 million invalid ballots cast in the three-day election. Turnout was put at 47.45 percent.
June 8: El-Sissi is sworn in for a four-year term.