In a day full of memorable images, none on Saturday was more powerful than that of Egypt’s first Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, flanked by generals at a military parade where he was formally handed authority to govern the nation.
For six decades, Mursi’s seat had been filled by presidents drawn from the ranks of the military. And for half that time, it was occupied by one man, Hosni Mubarak, a former air force chief who hounded and jailed members of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Now the tables are turned, even if the presidential office Mursi holds has been shorn by the generals of many of powers Mubarak and his predecessors enjoyed.
“We have kept the promise that we made before God and the people. Now we have an elected president who takes over the keys for ruling Egypt through a direct and free vote,” said Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, addressing his guest as “Mr President”.
Before that, state television showed Tantawi, Egypt’s top general and Mubarak’s loyal defence minister for 20 years, welcoming Mursi as he stepped out of a black sedan at the desert base with a hurried salute before shaking his hand.
It was not just the military ceremony that oozed symbolism.
Mursi addressed the nation from the same stage in Cairo where U.S. President Barack Obama had in 2009 appealed to Arab autocrats to open up. Egypt’s new leader was sworn in at a court next to the hospital where imprisoned Mubarak is being treated.
But it was the scene at Heikstep military base that captured Egypt’s dramatic transformation most clearly with images unthinkable a year-and-a-half ago before Arab uprisings challenged autocrats who had ruled the region for generations.
“A picture for history: a civilian president in the middle of the military,” wrote Dima Khatib on Twitter, one of the social networking sites that was used to galvanise the masses against Mubarak, toppling him on February 11, 2011 after 18 days.