Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood claimed that its candidate had won the country’s first free presidential election, defeating Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and ending 60 years of rule by presidents drawn from the armed forces.
An election committee source told Reuters that Islamist Mohamed Morsy, a U.S.-educated engineer, was comfortably ahead of former air force general Ahmed Shafik with most of the votes tallied, but that the count had yet to be officially finalised.
However, new head of state is likely to remain subordinate to the military for some time at least. In yet another twist in Egypt’s tortuous path from revolution to democracy, the ruling military council issued a decree as voting ended on Sunday that set strict limits on the president’s powers. On the eve of the election, it had already dissolved the Islamist-led parliament, Reuters reports.
Liberal and Islamist opponents denounced a “military coup”.
The chaotic end to the race, as Shafik’s camp challenged the Brotherhood’s claim overnight, and the last-minute intervention by the generals who pushed out Mubarak in the name of the people, were in keeping with a transition that was meant to chart a new course for the Arab world’s most populous nation but has left most of the 82 million Egyptians weary and confused.
Both Egypt’s Western allies, long wary of the rise of political Islam, as well as neighbouring Israel, worried about its 1979 peace treaty with Cairo, have looked on with alarm as its economy totters and hostile rhetoric gets a wider airing.
“Mohamed Morsy is the first popularly elected civilian president of Egypt,” the official website of Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party announced in the early hours of Monday. But an aide to Shafik, an ex-military man like Mubarak, contested that and said the group was “hijacking the election.”
However, as Cairo’s streets stirred into life after two days devoted to a historic election, the source on the electoral committee told Reuters: “The results shown by the Morsy campaign on their website which show Morsy in the lead, reflect to a large degree the results tallied by the electoral committee.”
The Brotherhood put Morsy ahead by 52 percent to 48 on a turnout of about 50 percent. Many supporters of candidates knocked out in last month’s first round stayed home or spoiled their ballots in protest at a choice they saw as between going back to the old regime or a future religious state.
NO SETTLING SCORES
Morsy, in his first comments since the victory announcement, promised at a news conference to be president for all Egyptians and said he would not “seek revenge or settle scores”.
“Thanks be to God who has guided Egypt’s people to the path of freedom and democracy, uniting the Egyptians for a better future,” said Morsy, who was a political prisoner under Mubarak.
Hundreds of flag-waving youth supporters of the Brotherhood, whose members long suffered imprisonment, torture and death at the hands of the generals, gathered in Tahrir Square, where the anti-Mubarak revolution erupted in central Cairo 16 months ago.
Outside the Brotherhood’s party headquarters people danced and chanted: “Morsy! Morsy! President!” and “Down down with military rule.”
“This is a historic vote in which good triumphs over evil,” said one of those celebrating, Ahmed Saad.
“I voted Morsy and my dream has come true.”
The 60-year-old Islamist candidate attracted support from some who reject the Brotherhood’s religious agenda and the imposition of Islamic law but were determined to bar the way to Shafik, 70, whom they see as the heir to the old regime.
A decree from the ruling military council, published as the count got under way on Sunday, spelled out only limited powers for the new head of state and reclaimed for itself the lawmaking prerogatives held by the Islamist-led parliament which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved last week.
The council’s “constitutional declaration”, issued under powers it took for itself after pushing aside Mubarak to appease the street protests last year, was a blow to democracy, said many who aired their grievances on social media, a favoured weapon in the Arab Spring that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
“Grave setback for democracy and revolution,” tweeted former U.N. diplomat and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.
“SCAF retains legislative power, strips president of any authority over army and solidifies its control,” he said.
“The ‘unconstitutional declaration’ continues an outright military coup,” tweeted Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a moderate Islamist knocked out in the first round of voting.
“We have a duty to confront it.”
A Facebook page whose young activists helped launch the uprising mocked the army’s order, noting Egypt would have a head of state with no control over his own armed forces: “It means the president is elected but has no power,” one comment read.
The order from Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the chairman to the Supreme Council, indicated that the army, which also controls swathes of Egypt’s economy, has no intention of handing substantial power now to its old adversary the Brotherhood.
“SCAF will carry legislative responsibilities … until a new parliament is elected,” the council’s order said.
It raised a question of how, even if a civilian head of state is sworn in this week, Tantawi can claim to have met his own deadline of July 1 for relinquishing control – a deadline the armed forces’ major patron and paymaster the United States had stressed in recent days it was expecting him to respect.
Washington and Egypt’s European allies, also major providers of aid to the most populous Arab state, had voiced concern when Tantawi, backed by a judicial ruling from a court appointed under Mubarak, dissolved the parliament elected in January in which the Brotherhood and hardline Islamists had a big majority.
The Brotherhood has contested the army’s power to dissolve parliament and warned of “dangerous days” ahead.
However, the Western powers – and many Egyptians – are also uneasy about the rise of Islamists in Cairo, as in other new democracies of the Arab Spring, notably Tunisia and Libya, and so are unlikely to sanction the generals for now.
The failure of the new parliament to agree a consensus body to draft a constitution – liberals accuse the Islamists of packing the panel with religious zealots – has left Egyptians picking their way from revolution to democracy through a legal maze while the generals control the map and change it at will.
Under the latest order, writing of the new constitution may pass to a body appointed by the SCAF – if a court rules against the contested panel nominated by the now defunct legislature.
Any new constitution would need approval in a referendum, with a new parliamentary election following. By a timetable contained in the decree, it would take another five months or so to complete the planned “transition to democracy”.
However, the experience of the past year has left many Egyptians doubting that the military, and what they call the “deep state” stretching across big business, Mubarak-era judges, security officials and the army, will ever hand over control.
“SCAF isn’t going to transfer any real power,” Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University said on Twitter of the constitutional order. “Back to the beginning.”