Muslim Brotherhood claims win in Egypt vote

Generals swiftly move to ensure their powers

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Voters waited at a polling station in Giza on Sunday, the second and final day of Egypt’s presidential runoff election.

CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood on Monday projected its candidate as the winner of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, hours after the ruling military council issued an interim constitution granting itself broad power over the future government, all but eliminating the president’s authority in an apparent effort to guard against a victory by the Islamist candidate.

The military’s new charter is the latest in a series of swift steps the generals have taken to tighten their grasp on power just at the moment when they had promised to hand over to elected civilians the authority that they assumed after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year. Their charter gives them control of all laws and the national budget, immunity from oversight, and the power to veto a declaration of war.

After dissolving the Brotherhood-led Parliament elected four months ago and locking out its lawmakers, the generals also seized control of the process of writing a permanent constitution on Sunday night. State news media reported that the generals had picked a 100-member panel to draft it.

“The new constitutional declaration completed Egypt’s official transformation into a military dictatorship,’’ Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, wrote in an online commentary. Under the military’s charter, the president appeared to be reduced to a powerless figurehead.

Though final results are not available yet, by early Monday morning the Brotherhood was projecting its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, the winner, and its leaders escalated their defiance. After meeting with General Sami Hafez Enan of the military council, the Brotherhood-affiliated speaker of Parliament, Saad el-Katatni, declared the military had no authority to dissolve Parliament or write a constitution.

He said that a separate 100-member panel picked by the Parliament would begin meeting within hours to write up its own constitution - raising the prospect of competing assemblies. And Saad El Hussainy, leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, said the group’s lawmakers would show up at Parliament as scheduled Tuesday morning. The generals have stationed military and riot police to keep the lawmakers out, potentially setting the stage for new clashes in the streets.

The military’s moves were “a new episode of a complete military coup against the revolution and the popular will,’’ Mohamed El Beltagy, a leading Brotherhood lawmaker, said in a statement online.

The generals have not spoken publicly or explained their actions, which have been announced without fanfare in the official news media. A rushed decision issued Thursday by a Mubarak-appointed court had initially provided at least a legal veneer for the dissolution of Parliament, but the swift consolidation of power has taken the feel of a counterrevolution in the making.

The presidential runoff had already become a critical battle in a long war between the generals and the Brotherhood, which for six decades constituted the primary opposition. Morsi, an American-trained engineer who once led the Brotherhood’s small bloc in the Mubarak-dominated Parliament, is up against Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and Mubarak’s last prime minister. Shafik is campaigning as a new strongman who can restore order and prevent an Islamist takeover.

The military’s shutdown of Parliament has turned the race into something close to a life-or-death struggle for the Brotherhood. It demoralized Egypt’s Islamists and democrats alike, and at the same time energized Shafik’s supporters. The sudden possibility that the revolt that defined the Arab Spring could end in a restoration of military-backed autocracy has once again captivated the region.

The Brotherhood began predicting a win for their candidate as soon as the polls closed. “Morsi is way ahead,’’ Murad Mohamed Ali, a Brotherhood spokesman, said in a telephone interview. “The results were surprising even to us.’’ Six hours later, the Brotherhood said Morsi was leading by more than 1 million votes with 97 percent of the votes counted. State media and independent analysts put him ahead as well, but official results were not yet known.

Ahmed Sarhan, a spokesman for Shafik, also insisted his candidate was winning. “Mission accomplished,’’ he wrote in a message online.

A few moments later, Sarhan issued a written statement accusing the Brotherhood of a host of campaign law violations, including tearing down Shafik posters, bribing and intimidating voters, and “ballot rigging and stuffing.’’

The Shafik campaign did not present evidence for the allegations, but its statement added: “The Muslim Brotherhood’s systematic election violations prove how the MB does not believe in freedom of choice and democracy unless this democracy brings them to power.’’