CAIRO (AP) — In front of tens of thousands of cheering supporters, Egypt's first Islamist and civilian president-elect vowed Friday to fight for his authority and symbolically read an oath of office on Cairo's Tahrir Square on the eve of his official inauguration.
Mohammed Morsi's strongly worded speech was a show of defiance as he gears up to power struggle with the country's ruling generals who passed a constitutional declaration taking over major presidential powers in the days before election results were announced after a bitter campaign.
"Everybody is hearing me now. The government, the military and the police ... No power above this power," he said as the crowd roared. "I reaffirm to you I will not give up any of the president's authorities. I can't afford to do this. I don't have that right to that."
"You are the source of legitimacy and whoever is protected by anyone else will lose," he told his supporters.
He also addressed popular demands, vowing to work for the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik jailed in the U.S. for a plot to blow up New York landmarks, as well as detained Egyptian protesters facing military tribunals.
"I will do my best to free all detainees, including Dr. Omar Abdel-Rahman," he said, pointing to a group of protesters holding a poster of the spiritual leader of men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Supporters have called for the sheik to be repatriated to Egypt on humanitarian grounds.
Morsi, a 60-year-old U.S.-trained engineer, narrowly defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister and a former air force general, in a runoff race that deeply polarized the nation. Initially put forward as a back-up candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood, he addressed the crowd with a booming voice, flanked by several security guards.
His victory has given Islamists a new boost after they overcame decades of suppression and arrests under Mubarak's secular regime to become Egypt's most influential post-revolutionary political force. However, the military has fought to check the Brotherhood's rise and maintain its hold on the reins of power.
At one point he opened his jacket to show the crowd he wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest, saying he "fears no one but God."
The speech ironically brought Republican Guard forces back to the square — a rare occurrence as government security forces have avoided the area to avoid provoking protesters angry over continued military influence.
Many protesters had called for Morsi to hold his swearing-in ceremony in the square, the epicenter of mass protests that ousted Mubarak, but the military generals said it must be held in front of a high court, in the absence of a parliament. The ceremony was scheduled to be held Saturday.
However, he read an informal oath during his speech to the delight of the crowd. Many chanted "We love you Morsi" and "Oh marshal tell the truth, Morsi is your president, or not," referring to the head of the ruling military panel Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
The ruling generals have promised to transfer power to an elected president by Sunday. But they also have given themselves sweeping powers that undercut the authority of the president. The constitutional declaration — issued days before the winner of a runoff vote was announced — also designated the generals the country's legislature in place of the disbanded parliament.
The disbanding of parliament forced Morsi to take his oath in front of the Constitutional Court, which ruled against the parliament and whose judges were appointed by Mubarak.
He also reached out to the liberal and secular activists who spearheaded last year's uprising.
"The revolution continues ... with an elected president who leads the ship of the nation and leads the revolution," he said.