Tensions grow in Egypt as vote results delayed

As political crisis deepens, human rights groups accuse the military of power-grabbing, paving the way for rights abuses.

Egyptians stage sit-in in Tahrir Square 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptians stage sit-in in Tahrir Square 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 1.
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 reported.
“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 assessed.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian press reported warnings from union leaders that delaying the election results would destabilize the country even further.
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.
Shafik’s camp 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.”
Click for special JPost featuresClick for special JPost features
Cairo’s cafes 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.
Security 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 2011.
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 so.
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 perform.”
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 added.
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 likely grow.
“If the Brotherhood decides it wants to eliminate the military, then the military will have to move to look after its own interests,” Podeh said.
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 Egypt.
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 be.
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, Podeh added.
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 democracy.
Reuters contributed to this report.