Thousands of protesters have filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square overnight as Egypt’s rival presidential candidates accused each of trying to steal an election whose result is still not known five days after polling ended.
Another two days of uncertainty and name calling seem likely over the weekend which begins on Friday, though there was no immediate violence.
Those camping out overnight demanded military rulers reverse new orders that entrench the generals’ power and called on the election commission to declare the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi president.
Across town, in a luxury international hotel, former general Ahmed Shafik, who was Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister when the army forced out the dictator to appease the Tahrir protesters, challenged Morsi’s self-proclaimed victory and said he was sure he had won.
At a televised address to whooping and cheering supporters, Shafik said: “These protests in the squares, the campaigns of terror and the media manipulation are all attempts to force the election committee to announce a particular result.”
Speaking in person rather than through spokesmen as he has through the week, he added: “I am fully confident that I will be the legitimate winner.” He called for calm and unity, saying he would invite opponents to join his administration.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it held concerns over the military’s commitment to hand over power to civilian rule.
“The generals’ relentless expansion of their authority to detain and try civilians now goes far beyond their powers under Hosni Mubarak,” Joe Stork, HRW Middle East director, said in a statement
“These decrees are the latest indication yet that there won’t be a meaningful handover to civilian rule on June 30,” Stork added.
The Election Commission did not say when it would announce the winner of the runoff. But its secretary-general, Hatem Begato, told the state newspaper Al-Ahram that the winner would be announced on Saturday or Sunday.
Allegations of fraud
The commission said the announcement was postponed from Thursday because a panel of judges must look into about 400 complaints of voting fraud submitted by both campaigns, including lawyers for Shafik claiming fraud in 14 of Egypt’s 27 provinces.
The lawyers said ballots sent to polling centers were already marked for Morsi.
Morsi’s lawyers accused Shafik of buying votes and being involved in forging lists of registered voters to include soldiers, who are barred from voting, and names of the dead.
The Brotherhood says it is being targeted by an organised campaign to keep it out of the presidency, and that even if Morsi is declared the victor, he will face deep resistance that will make it impossible for him to govern.
After two days of voting that ended on Sunday, the group declared Morsi won 52 per cent of the vote. Shafiq’s camp on Monday announced he had won 51.5 per cent of the vote.
A group of independent jurists known as the Judges For Egypt said Morsi was the winner, with a similar proportion to the Brotherhood’s count. But Shafik’s campaign accused the group of being affiliated with the Brotherhood.
Foreign and local election monitors say the runoff was not marked by enough serious or large-scale irregularities to question its validity.
In a series of swift moves last week, the generals cornered for themselves sweeping powers that effectively subordinate the next president and severely limit his capability for independent action.
A court order dissolved parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood, and the military issued a constitutional declaration that makes the generals the nation’s legislators and gives them control of the budget.
They will dominate the security system after reshaping a key National Defense Council to keep it under their control.
The generals will also oversee the process of writing Egypt’s new constitution.
The Brotherhood had raised alarm when it and other Islamists tried to pack an earlier attempt to form an assembly to write a constitution with their members, giving them the strongest voice in writing it. The assembly was dissolved by a court order.
Allies of the military, Mubarak-era officials and secular opponents of Islamists also hold sway in the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office and the election commission.
While the Brotherhood and secular revolutionary groups have denounced the military’s moves, some Egyptian liberals see the steps as a way to prevent a takeover by the 82-year-old Muslim Brotherhood, or ensure that its hold on power is difficult and temporary.