The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi claimed victory over rival Ahmed Shafik in Egypt’s presidential runoff while the army moved to expand its powers, setting the stage for a clash with the Islamists.
Shafik disputed his opponent’s claim, saying in a statement on his Facebook page that he, rather than Mursi, won 52 percent of the vote in the vote that ended yesterday. The conflicting claims underscored the stakes in an acrimonious race in which tensions were raised when the ruling military council, hours after the polls closed, issued a decree curtailing presidential powers and expanding its own. The generals looked to calm those worries, pledging they would hand over power as scheduled to the incoming head of state.
The military’s decree, which followed a court ruling last week dissolving parliament, fueled charges that the generals are hijacking Egypt’s transition to democracy. The Brotherhood and secular activists have called for anti-military protests tomorrow.
The army has shown “no inhibition about making the most brazen power grabs imaginable, they’re not even really pretending any more,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. Mursi’s election performance “shows that there are many Egyptians who are uncomfortable” with wider military powers, he said. “It’s going to be a nasty fight, and it’s not a fight that’s going to be resolved anytime soon.”
Mursi has 51.9 percent of the votes tallied so far and Shafik has 48.1 percent, according to state-run Al-Ahram’s website. The official declaration is on June 21.
After claiming victory in a contest that has polarized Egypt, Mursi sought to ease tensions at a televised pre-dawn press conference. “We are not seeking revenge,” the 60-year- old U.S.-trained engineer said. “We are all the sons of one country.”
Tensions between Egypt’s military rulers, Islamist politicians and activists have hampered efforts to restore stability and revive a $240 billion economy that is struggling to recover after last year’s revolt against President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s benchmark stock index slumped 3.4 percent to a five-month low at close in Cairo, extending its drop since last month’s first-round vote to 14 percent. Yields on the country’s dollar bonds due in 2020 rose 10 basis points to 7 percent, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg.
“We’re in a worse position than we were before,” said Said Hirsh, an economist at Capital Economics in London. The army’s expanded role will leave the new president with “very little power over introducing new policies or economic reforms or anything else,” he said. “That will definitely increase uncertainty, and markets are reacting to that.”
The military budget will remain beyond civilian oversight under the terms of yesterday’s decree, which also gives the ruling generals legislative powers and the right to appoint the committee that will write the new constitution. Last week, the Justice Ministry empowered the military police and intelligence services to arrest civilians.
The army sought to assuage concerns it is monopolizing power. Major-General Mohamed el-Assar told reporters in Cairo that the military remains committed to handing over power by the end of this month. He also said the army is “not happy” with last week’s constitutional court ruling ordering that parliament be dissolved, though he said it “must be respected.”
Fellow military council member Major-General Mamdouh Shahine said the new constitution should be drawn up in about three months, with parliamentary elections to be held after that.
Egypt’s military has steadily fallen out of favor after initially being hailed as heroes in the early days of the uprising. Several deadly clashes between protesters and security forces sharpened criticism that the generals were resorting to Mubarak’s tactics.
The army’s hold on power has pushed mostly secular activist groups such as April 6, which spearheaded protests last year, to back Mursi even though they have frequently criticized the Brotherhood since their collaboration against to overthrow Mubarak. April 6 congratulated Mursi in an e-mailed statement which also warned that the coming period will be “more difficult” and called for unity against the army’s “oppressive rule.”
The Brotherhood will participate in a mass rally scheduled for tomorrow being organized by April 6, said Hazem Farouq, an official with the Brotherhood’s political party, which Mursi headed. The dissolution of parliament and the new declaration were a “usurpation of legislative authority” by the military, Farouq said on the group’s Facebook page.
Mursi supporters drove around central Cairo honking car horns to celebrate their candidate’s self-proclaimed victory early today, while some of his backers gathered in Tahrir Square. Mursi told reporters that he envisages a civil, democratic, constitutional and modern state.
“I will be a father, a brother, a servant to all” segments of Egyptian society, he said.
Shafik’s campaign had sought to play on fears among secularists, Christians and others that the Brotherhood will seek to impose Islamic rule. Mursi promised today to “stand at an equal distance from all, and be a servant to all Egyptians.”
Mubarak’s former premier argued Mursi was trying to manipulate public sentiment in his favour in a bid to undercut challenges that may be filed by Shafik. Shafik’s campaign said what the other side was doing “threatened Egypt’s future,” and vowed it would challenge results in several of the 27 governorates.
The dispute between the two candidates “will be resolved and they’re going to get over it,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at the Emirates University in Al Ain said in a telephone interview from Dubai. “The Muslim Brotherhood are feeling too triumphant and they shouldn’t.”
Shafik and his campaign “look like bad losers, and they have to grow up and get over it.”
A top priority for any Egyptian government is revival of the economy.
Growth stalled after last year’s revolt as tourists and investors stayed away. The government’s borrowing costs for one year debt have surged by about 50 percent since the start of last year, and the central bank has spent more than half of the country’s currency reserves. Conflicts between parliament and the military-appointed interim government and parliament have thwarted efforts to negotiate a $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan.
Officials say Egypt needs the money to reassure other donors and investors, and plug the Middle East’s largest budget gap. The IMF has said any economic program that could serve as the basis for a loan agreement should enjoy broad political support, a condition that may be harder to meet after the dissolution of parliament.
--With assistance from Ahmed A. Namatalla in Cairo, Alaa Shahine in Dubai and Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid in Washington. Editors: Francis Harris, Ben Holland
To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com
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