CAIRO -- Islamist Mohammed Morsi was declared the winner Sunday in Egypt's first free presidential election in history, closing the tumultuous first phase of a democratic transition and opening a new struggle with the still-dominant military rulers who recently stripped the presidency of most of its powers.
In Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising that ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, joyous Morsi supporters wept and knelt on the ground in prayer as soon as they heard the outcome announced on live television. They danced, set off fireworks and released doves in the air with Morsi's picture attached in celebrations not seen in the square since Mubarak was forced out on Feb. 11, 2011.
Many are looking now to see whether Morsi will try to take on the military and wrestle back the powers they took just one week ago. Thousands vowed to remain in Tahrir to demand that the ruling generals reverse their decision.
"I pledge to be a president who serves his people and works for them," Morsi said on his official Web page. "I will not betray God in defending your rights and the rights of this nation."
Morsi has called for unity and said he carries "a message of peace" to the world.
In his first televised speech on state TV, Morsi pledged Sunday to preserve Egypt's international accords, a reference to the peace deal with Israel.
He paid tribute to nearly 900 protesters killed in last year's uprising, saying without the "blood of the martyrs," he would not have made it to the presidency.
The White House congratulated Morsi and urged him to advance national unity as he forms a new government. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Morsi's victory is a milestone in Egypt's transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule under Mubarak. The Obama administration had expressed no public preference in the presidential race.
Left on the sidelines of the political drama are the liberal and secular youth groups that drove the uprising against Mubarak, left to wonder whether Egypt has taken a step toward becoming an Islamist state. Some grudgingly supported Morsi in the face of Ahmed Shafiq, who was Mubarak's last prime minister, while others boycotted the vote.
Morsi will now have to reassure them that he represents the whole country, not just Islamists, and will face enormous challenges after security and the economy badly deteriorated in the transition period.