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Egyptians elect Morsi as next president

CAIRO -- In a reversal of fortunes unthinkable a year and a half ago, an Islamist jailed by Hosni Mubarak has succeeded him as president of the biggest Arab nation in a victory at the ballot box which has historic consequences for Egypt and the Middle East.

Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president of Egypt with 51.7 percent of last weekend's run-off vote, defeating former general Ahmed Shafik, the state election committee said on Sunday.

He succeeds Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown 16 months ago after a popular uprising. The military council which has ruled the biggest Arab nation since then has this month curbed the powers of the presidency, meaning the head of state will have to work closely with the army on a planned democratic constitution.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters burst into cheers on Cairo's Tahrir Square, waving national flags and chanting “Allahu Akbar!” or God is Great, greeting a dramatic victory.

Morsi, a 60-year-old, U.S.-educated engineer who spent time in jail under Mubarak, won the first round ballot in May with a little under a quarter of the vote. He has pledged to form an inclusive government to appeal to the many Egyptians, including a large Christian minority, who are anxious over religious rule.

The military council will retain control of the biggest army in the Middle East, whose closest ally is the United States. Morsi has said he will respect international treaties, notably that signed with Israel in 1979, on which much U.S. aid depends.

“President Morsi will struggle to control the levers of state,” Elijah Zarwan, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in Cairo.

“His challenge is to lead a bitterly divided, fearful, and angry population toward a peaceful democratic outcome, without becoming a reviled scapegoat for continued military rule.”

The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi will not enjoy the extent of modern, pharaonic powers exercised by Mubarak: those have been curtailed by a military establishment which will decide just how much he will be able to do in government.

Still, the U.S.-trained engineer's victory in the country's first free presidential election breaks a tradition of domination by men from the armed forces, which have provided every Egyptian leader since the overthrow of the monarchy 60 years ago, and installs in office a group that drew on 84 years of grassroots activism to catapult Morsi into the presidency.

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Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi demonstrate in Cairo's Tahrir square on Saturday, June 23, prior to the announcement of the results of a divisive presidential election. (AFP)

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