Islamist president says Egypt won't reverse course

CAIRO Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:22am EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi opened his first public address after his inauguration on Saturday with the words "God is greatest, above everyone" and pledged to keep the country on a democratic course after Hosni Mubarak's fall.

He spoke at Cairo University to ordinary people, politicians and generals. He told the latter they were now free to take their troops back to barracks to focus on national security.

The army has angered Islamists and others by curbing the powers of the presidency, dissolving an elected parliament based on a court order and taking other steps to keep a grip on power long after the formal handover to Mursi.

"Egypt will not go backwards," the new president said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

He praised the "free and fair" elections to parliament, whose lower house was dissolved by a court order this month that was swiftly enforced by the army.

Mursi said Egypt would work to end bloodshed in Syria and pledged to uphold international agreements, in a nod to Israel which fears for the future of its 33-year-old peace treaty.

"We carry a message of peace to the world," Mursi said in a segment intended to reassure the world that his tenure posed no threat to regional order. "We emphasize the state of Egypt's commitment to international treaties and agreements."

The new president said: "Egyptians will not export the revolution. We do not interfere in the affairs of others ... and at the same time we do not permit anyone to interfere in ours."

Some Gulf Arab states worry that the rise of Islamists to political power after a wave of Arab uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere could unsettle their conservative monarchies.

Mursi said Egypt supported the Palestinian and Syrian people. "Spilling the Syrian people's blood has to stop. We will exert efforts to achieve that in the near future," he said.

KEEPING ITS PROMISE

He also praised the armed forces, who have been criticized by Islamists for their handling of the political transition.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council, and his deputy, General Sami Enan, were in the audience and applauded Mursi's remarks about the armed forces. Earlier some in the hall had chanted slogans against military rule.

"The military council has kept its promise that it would not be a replacement for the public will," Mursi said.

The army council has long pledged to hand over power by July 1, although as polls closed in the run-off vote this month the army issued a decree that reined in presidential powers and gave itself legislative powers until a new parliament is elected.

"Elected institutions will return to perform their roles and the great Egyptian army will be free to go back to its mission to protect the nation's security and border," Mursi said.

Mursi also praised the police, despite the criticism they incurred for their attempts to crush the anti-Mubarak uprising.

In a brief reference to the economy, Mursi promised to encourage investment and boost the vital tourism sector, disrupted since Mubarak's fall. Some fear the advent of an Islamist administration will scare off tourists attracted by the beaches and antiquities of Egypt, where alcohol is available.

The new president repeated his oath of office, getting a standing ovation. "In the new Egypt, the ruler will be a worker for the nation and servant to its people," he said.

(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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