CAIRO, (Reuters) – Former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in as president of Egypt yesterday in a ceremony with low-key attendance by Western allies concerned by a crackdown on dissent since he ousted Islamist leader Mohamed Mursi last year.
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 air force commander Hosni Mubarak.
Security in Cairo was extra tight, with armoured personnel carriers and tanks positioned in strategic locations as Sisi swore to protect Egypt’s unity, law and the interests of its people before a panel of judges at the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Near Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the revolt against Mubarak where protesters now rarely tread, young men sold t-shirts with the image of Sisi in his trademark dark 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 Mursi.
“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.
Western countries, who hoped the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011 would usher in a new era of democracy, have watched Egypt’s political transition stumble.
Mursi was the country’s first freely elected president, but his year in power was tarnished by accusations that he usurped power, imposed the Brotherhood’s views on Islam and mismanaged the economy, allegations he denied.
After Sisi deposed him and became Egypt’s de facto ruler, security forces mounted one of the toughest crackdowns on the Brotherhood in its 86-year history. Hundreds were killed in street protests and thousands of others jailed.
Secular activists were eventually thrown into jail too, even those who supported Mursi’s fall, because they violated a new law that severely restricts protests.
Mursi’s ouster was applauded by Egypt’s Gulf Arab allies, who were alarmed by the rise of the Brotherhood, the international standard-bearer of mainstream Sunni political Islam.