Political tensions in Egypt soared on Thursday, as Egyptians reacted with
disbelief and anger to news that election officials had delayed declaring the
winner of the presidential runoff elections.
Hundreds of protesters
gathered for a third day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the
revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, to demand that the
officers who pushed him aside keep their word and hand over power by July
The state elections committee said it delayed announcing the vote
result because it was examining allegations of election fraud and campaign
violations by lawyers from both campaigns. Late Thursday afternoon, Supreme
Presidential Elections Commission secretary-general Hatem Bagato said the final
presidential runoff results would be announced Sunday, after the campaigns for
both Mohamed Morsy and Ahmed Shafik filed 220 and 190 appeals, Al-Masry al-Youm
“We are taking our time to review the appeals to investigate
them properly but, God willing, the results will be announced by Sunday at most,
if not before that,” Judge Maher el-Beheiry, a member of the elections
committee, told Reuters.
Some see the delay as a bid to pressure the
Muslim Brotherhood to accept the military decree that curbed the president’s
powers before any presidency by their candidate, Morsy. The committee insists it
is simply a procedural issue to ensure all appeals are fairly
Meanwhile, the Egyptian press reported warnings from union
leaders that delaying the election results would destabilize the country even
Both presidential candidates, Morsy and former general and
Mubarak aide Ahmed Shafik, declared their victories in the runoff election.
Morsy’s official campaign website noted Thursday that the reformist judicial
group Judges for Egypt, which helped monitor the recent second-round election
runoffs, had said in a Wednesday press conference that the Brotherhood candidate
had received 13,238,335 votes against Shafik’s 12,351,310.
said on Wednesday it remained confident that its candidate, whom Mubarak
appointed prime minister during the uprising, would win, although a spokesman
for Shafik also described the vote as “too close to call.”
and social media were alive with chatter about troops preparing to secure major
cities, but military sources played down the idea that there was any unusual
activity beyond extra alertness.
Adding to the unease, Mubarak himself
was back in the news, as he was moved from prison – where he began a life
sentence this month – to a military hospital for treatment.
sources have said the 84- year-old was slipping in and out of a coma but was
“stabilizing.” Many Egyptians suspect the generals are exaggerating to get their
old comrade out of jail.
Meanwhile, US-based Human Rights Watch accused
Egypt’s ruling military council on Thursday of creating conditions “ripe for
further serious human rights violations.”
The 20-strong Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces took power after Mubarak was ousted in February
SCAF promised to hand over power to the democratically-elected
government after this month’s elections, but recent moves to expand the
military’s authority have led to concerns that the junta will not do
A day before the runoff election, the High Court issued a ruling to
dissolve the Brotherhood-led parliament, while as Egyptians voted in the runoff
elections on Sunday, SCAF set out provisions for the military’s expanded role in
civilian law enforcement.
The new constitutional declaration decreed that
civilians will continue to be tried before military courts, a decision that came
just weeks after a Justice Ministry decree that empowers the military to arrest
civilians – a move HRW slammed as “an attempt to embed exceptional emergency
law-like powers into regular law.”
Last week, Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, a
SCAF member specializing in legal affairs, appeared on popular live TV talk show
al-Qahera al-Yawm (“Cairo Today”), to say the decree would help “organize and
bring security to the street.”
The new provisions were for the “good of
the country,” Shaheen said, which “requires a presence for the armed forces in
the street to protect the country, since the police are still unable to fully
Meanwhile, on Monday, another SCAF decree to restructure the
National Defense Council granted the military additional rights to make
decisions on internal and national security matters.
Joe Stork, deputy
director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, said SCAF’s “relentless
expansion of their authority to detain and try civilians” greatly exceeds their
previous powers under Mubarak.
“These decrees are the latest indication
yet that there won’t be a meaningful handover to civilian rule on June 30,” he
Noting SCAF’s moves to transfer power to the military, Prof. Elie
Podeh, of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department at the Hebrew
University, told The Jerusalem Post that if Morsy is declared the eventual
victor in the runoffs, tensions between the military and the Brotherhood would
“If the Brotherhood decides it wants to eliminate the
military, then the military will have to move to look after its own interests,”
Last Friday, SCAF gave an official order to disband Egypt’s
parliament, a move its speaker, former Brotherhood parliamentary bloc leader
Mohamed al-Katatni, sharply criticized.
Podeh also said the decision to
delay announcing the election results “did not bode well” and that if the final
vote was a very close call, it would result in continued insecurity for
According to Podeh, no matter who is declared the winner on
Sunday, a major issue facing Egypt post-elections is the country’s lack of a
constitution setting out exactly what the new president’s executive powers will
Drafting a new constitution to define the nature of the state, and
whether that state will be primarily religious or civil in its orientation, will
be a key challenge, Podeh said.
One of SCAF’s new decrees has been new
laws empowering it to veto any new constitution.
Egypt will also hold
fresh parliamentary elections at some point, and if the Brotherhood does come to
power, that could provide an impetus for Egypt’s secular and liberal parties –
which make up only around a quarter of the parliament – to organize themselves,
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dubbed the
military’s actions “deeply troubling” on Wednesday night, saying that Egypt
needed to write its constitution.
Clinton added that the military should
“assume an appropriate role, which is not to try to interfere with, dominate or
subvert the constitutional authority.”
The EU, a major donor of aid to
Egypt, on Wednesday joined the US – also a major donor – in expressing “concern”
at what the army moves meant for a promised transition to
Reuters contributed to this report.