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Sense of shock in Egypt as Islamist poised to win presidency

A female supporter of presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi, carries a poster with his picture during celebrations claiming victory over rival candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, June 18, 2012.

Nasser Nasser/AP

It won't be official until Thursday, but Egyptians appear to have elected a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood as their president. Really.

With more than 99 per cent of polling stations accounted for, Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has garnered 51 per cent of the vote, while his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, a retired Major General, former commander of the air force and Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, captured 49 per cent of the ballots.

These numbers are unofficial because they are subject to appeals and the final tally, after appeals, is still to come.

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Gen. Shafiq's campaign, however, announced this morning that its candidate is in the lead and that the Muslim Brotherhood had "hijacked the election."

"The initial indications of the Ahmed Shafiq campaign prove beyond all doubt that he is ahead in the elections despite all the violations," a spokesman for the Shafiq campaign said in a statement.

The campaign indicated it would be appealing the numbers.

The idea that Egyptians, in their first truly free election, would be able to choose as president a leading member of the often outlawed religious-political group, has stunned most people here. Like many members of the Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer has been arrested often and served several months in jail mostly for protesting government practices.

Some can't quite believe the military will allow this to happen and suspect that some appeals could lead to the undoing of the apparent results. Others live in fear that the results will be confirmed and that the Islamist organization will be allowed to lead the country toward becoming an Islamic state.

Only a relatively small portion of the population, devoted supporters of the Brotherhood, are expressing joy at this point.

Despite the scorching midday heat, supporters of Mr. Morsi have begun to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square, site of much of last year's popular uprising, where the Brotherhood leader is expected to appear later today.

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Earlier, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the group that assumed all executive powers last year after the ouster of Mr. Mubarak, told reporters the council would hand over executive authority to the newly elected president in a formal ceremony at the end of the month. (The announcement did not state which man has been officially elected.)

However, in a decree issued today, the SCAF have amended last year's constitutional decree by which they took power. The SCAF keeps to itself control over all matters related to the military, including any decision to go to war, as well as control of the national budget. Those items, the decree states, are being held back until a new constitution, accepted in a national referendum, determines where those powers should permanently reside.

Beyond that, the new president will have the full range of executive authority to appoint a prime minister and cabinet, to promulgate or object to laws, to represent the state in international dealings etc.

In addition to reserving these executive powers, the SCAF also decreed it is assuming legislative authority to pass all laws, since the recent election of the People's Assembly was ruled to have been unconstitutional. The Supreme Constitutional Court last week ruled that one third of the seats were improperly chosen.

The military council has announced it has dismissed the parliament and has also assumed from the parliament the authority for appointing a constitutional assembly that will draft a new constitution for the country.

SCAF, along with the president, will have veto powers of any of the constitution's provisions.

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The appropriation of legislative authority, more than the limits temporarily placed on the presidency, has riled the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party. It is they who have the most seats in the assembly and have the most to lose if this parliament is dismissed and a new one elected.

Some question why the whole parliament must be dismissed when the violations only took place in one category of voting (that of electing the one third who are locally chosen representatives). Others insist, the military has no right to dismiss any of the members who have been chosen by the people.

The speaker of the People's Assembly, Freedom and Justice member Saad al-Katatni, has called for all members to report to parliament Tuesday for the reopening of the current session. The April 6 youth movement that was a pivotal force in sparking last year's uprising has announced it will support the re-opening of the parliament.

As this opening would be in contradiction to the SCAF's decree, and as the assembly is surrounded by armed forces and armoured vehicles, there is likely to be a serious confrontation Tuesday between the two sides.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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