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Egyptian president takes office

Egyptian military council chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi met with president-elect Mohamed Morsi, center left, in Cairo on June 25.

AFP PHOTO/US EMBASSY

Egyptian military council chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi met with president-elect Mohamed Morsi, center left, in Cairo on June 25.

CAIRO — As Mohammed Morsi moved Monday into the presidential office last occupied by Hosni Mubarak, the contours emerged of a backroom deal that led Egypt’s powerful military council to bless the Islamist as the country’s first freely elected head of state.

State television showed a video of Morsi meeting with the military council headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years. The report quoted Tantawi as saying the military will ‘‘stand by the elected, legitimate president and will cooperate with him for the stability of the country.’’

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Morsi’s recognition as president does not resolve the larger standoff between the generals and the Muslim Brotherhood over the institutions of government.

Complex issues must still be negotiated, including what to do about the dissolved Parliament and the drafting of a new constitution, and deciding who will head the Cabinet and hold the key defense and foreign ministries.

After the generals stripped the presidency of most of its major powers in recent weeks, Morsi has taken office without a clear picture of his authority or what he can do to resolve Egypt’s most pressing issues, including restoring stability and security, and improving the struggling economy.

Still, the country appeared relieved that at least the question of who won the presidential runoff had been resolved on Sunday when Egypt’s election commission officially recognized Morsi, a 60-year-old US-trained engineer, as the first civilian and the first Islamist to hold the post.

Morsi narrowly defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former air force general, in a race that deeply polarized the nation and threatened to unleash violent protests.

Demonstrations continued Monday but traffic was flowing again through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of last year’s uprising, which had been blocked a day earlier by Morsi supporters protesting against the military’s power grab.

The new president met Monday with the military-backed prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, who was asked to head a caretaker government until Morsi nominates a new one.

Lawmakers and mediators were tightlipped about the details of the negotiations to resolve the power struggle, although they acknowledged that a few round of talks with the generals took place last week and are ongoing — a sign that much remains undone.

The ruling generals have stacked their side with a maze of legal tools that strengthen their negotiating position, while the Muslim Brotherhood must tread softly: The talks can easily blow up into wider social discontent if the Islamist group appears to be looking out only for its interests and trying to entrench its grip on power.

Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, the head of the ultraconservative Islamist party Al-Nour, said in the week between the presidential runoff and the announcement of the winner on Sunday many politicians tried to mediate between the Islamists and the generals.

Discussions are still underway to clarify the authority of the president and the military. And one of the immediate sticking points is the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Parliament by a court order, days before the presidential runoff.

As polls closed on June 17, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced constitutional amendments that shocked the Brotherhood and many other political activists who took part in the uprising 16 months ago.

The generals gave themselves sweeping powers that undercut the authority of the president. That followed a government decision that granted military police broad powers to detain civilians.

The military council, which promised to transfer power to an elected leader by July 1, said the moves were designed to fill a power vacuum and ensure that the president doesn’t monopolize decision-making until a new constitution is drafted.

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