CAIRO, Egypt — On the day before presidential election results are finally expected to be announced, political tension and uncertainty is everywhere.
Rumors of just who the Presidential Elections Commission, an ad hoc body, will name tomorrow as the winner of the race for Egypt’s top post abound — from the nation’s most popular television talk shows to online social media debates, café conversations, and in a crowded Tahrir Square.
“Everyone I know is talking about the elections,” said 45-year-old accountant Hisham Mohamed, puffing on a water-pipe at a Cairo café. “Of course, nobody knows what will happen next.”
The elections would have marked Egypt’s first, free vote for a civilian president in the country’s history, following a popular uprising against former president, Hosni Mubarak, last year.
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But both candidates — the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and pro-military contender, Ahmad Shafiq — have claimed victory in the week since the polls closed, creating parallel political narratives that electoral experts say can damage the credibility of even a clean vote.
“We refuse a certain candidate’s attempt to steal power by announcing election results before the correct time,” said Naguib Abadir, spokesman for the secular Free Egyptians party, in a veiled reference to the Brotherhood’s Morsi, who released a total vote count with him in the lead.
“This is an encroachment on the function of state institutions,” he said. “And inciting public opinion in their [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] favor.”
While the post-revolution political forces continue to draw battle lines in the fight for legitimacy, forging fitful alliances and trading public barbs over the vote, many Egyptians are now skeptical that it’s the ballot box that will ultimately deliver their new leader.
Egypt’s military rulers — the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which seized power during last year’s revolt — staged a soft military coup, analysts say, when they announced on June 17 a unilateral constitutional declaration that grants the army full legislative and executive power.
Now, some Egyptians say, it appears the outcome of the presidential elections, as well as the president’s yet-to-be-defined role, are actually being negotiated behind closed doors.
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“I think there is definitely some kind of game going on,” 26-year-old Hamdy Sayed, a waiter at a downtown Cairo café, said of the delay in announcing the presidential election votes.
“The numbers seem to indicate that Morsi won,” he said. “But I think SCAF may be worried about that and is pushing for Shafiq.”
The powerful, entrenched army and the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood are two of Egypt’s oldest foes.
Earlier this month, on June 14, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the Brotherhood-led parliament, elected in free and fair polls earlier this year, was unconstitutional, prompting the military to dissolve the body.
Police and army soldiers subsequently locked-down the parliament building in central Cairo, barring lawmakers from entering.
Brotherhood leaders told GlobalPost that the recent moves by the ruling generals were a “declaration of war” against the movement and other political groups.
As a result, a Morsi presidency, said Brotherhood leader, Amr Daraag, “is our last hope of getting anything accomplished after the revolution.”
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On Saturday, Reuters quoted leading Brotherhood figure, Khairet Al Shater, and Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen confirming the two sides had met over the past week to hammer out a political deal over the powers of the presidency — prompting speculation that Morsi had indeed won.
But Karim Radwan, a member of Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, in Cairo, told GlobalPost on Saturday that none of the movement’s members had met with the military leaders.
“We had no contact with them at all,” Radwan said, adding that the Brotherhood refuses to “make deals” with the military.
“This is complete disrespect for the will of the people,” he said. “And if Shafiq wins, it will mean that the elections have been rigged.”
The current political turmoil is a far cry from the euphoria that swept through Cairo’s Tahrir Square after the popular uprising that shook the world last year.
Thousands of mostly Brotherhood supporters descended on Tahrir on Friday, declaring an open-ended sit-in until the results were announced.
But the numbers had already dwindled on Saturday, despite Brotherhood calls for a second revolution if Morsi does not win.
“We won’t need to do anything” if Shafiq is declared the winner, Radwan said. “The people will react and we will be there with them on the front line.”
Heba Habib contributed reporting from Cairo, Egypt.