Muslim bloc claims Egyptian victory
The Muslim Brotherhood has declared victory in Egypt’s first free presidential election since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak but the ruling military council gave itself powers to rule and subordinate the nominal head of state.
Although official results have not yet been announced, the Brotherhood released a tally that showed Mohammed Morsi took nearly 52 per cent of the vote to defeat Mr Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq with about 48 per cent.
If his victory is confirmed in the official result, it would be the first of an Islamist as head of state in the stunning wave of pro-democracy uprisings that swept the Middle East the past year. But the military’s last minute power grab sharpens the possibility of confrontation and more of the turmoil that has beset Egypt since Mr Mubarak’s overthrow.
By midday, several hundred flag-waving supporters had gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising, to celebrate.
In a victory speech at his headquarters in the middle of the night, Mr Morsi (60) clearly sought to assuage the fears of many Egyptians that the Brotherhood will try to impose stricter provisions of Islamic law.
He said he seeks “stability, love and brotherhood for the Egyptian civil, national, democratic, constitutional and modern state” and made no mention of Islamic law.
But the interim constitution announced by the military declared them in charge in lieu of the dissolved parliament, gave them control over the budget and the power to determine who writes the permanent constitution that will define the country’s future.
The military was thought to be concerned about having to submit its budget to civilian oversight under an elected parliament and president because it is estimated to control 20-40 per cent of Egypt’s economy.
The Brotherhood challenged the military’s power grab, saying it did not recognise the dissolution of parliament. It also rejected the military’s right to issue an interim constitution and oversee the drafting of a new one.
That set up a potential power struggle over spheres of authority between Egypt’s two strongest forces — the military and the Brotherhood. The fundamentalist group has campaigned on a platform of bringing Egypt closer to a form of Islamic rule. But the military has positioned itself to block that.
And whether the Brotherhood will push a fight remains an open question. It has reached accommodations with the military in the past.
At Brotherhood campaign headquarters, officials and supporters were ebullient.
The group that was banned for most of its 80-year history and repeatedly subjected to crackdowns under Mr Mubarak’s rule.
The big question now is how the Brotherhood and the military will get along with the military still holding powers that can potentially paralyse the new president.
The supreme council of the armed forces, the body of top generals headed by field marshall Hussein Tantawi, who was Mr Mubarak’s defence minister for 20 years, has built a formidable lock on ultimate control in Egypt. Just before the election, the ruling council decreed that military police and intelligence now have the right to arrest civilians for a host of suspected crimes, some as minor as obstructing traffic.
The ruling generals, mostly in their 60s and 70s, owe their ranks to the patronage of Mr Mubarak. All along, activists from the pro-democracy youth groups that engineered the anti-Mubarak uprising questioned the generals’ will to hand over power, arguing that after 60 years of direct or behind-the-scenes domination, the military was unlikely to voluntarily relinquish its perks.
The prospect that the generals will still hold most power even after their nominal handover of authority to civilians cast a gloomy pall over the presidential runoff, leaving many feeling the vote was essentially meaningless.