Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi claimed victory yesterday in Egypt’s divisive race for the top job, as a military power grab overshadowed the country’s first post-Mubarak presidential election.
A confirmed win by Mursi of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) would mark the first time Islamists have taken the presidency in the Arab world’s most populous nation, but moves by the military have rendered the post toothless and have been slammed by activists as a coup.
The Islamists’ rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force chief and prime minister to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, disputed the Brotherhood’s victory announcement, labeling it “bizarre behavior.”
However, state television also reported that initial counts showed Mursi ahead.
There were scenes of jubilation at Mursi’s headquarters in Cairo, where the candidate himself thanked Egyptians for their votes in brief remarks after the Brotherhood said he had secured 52 percent of the ballots cast.
Mursi pledged to work “hand-in-hand with all Egyptians for a better future, freedom, democracy, development and peace.”
“We are not seeking vengeance or to settle accounts,” he said, adding that he would build a “modern, democratic state” for all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike.
A campaign official in the Shafiq camp disputed the Brotherhood claim of victory, saying their figures showed he was leading in the count.
“We reject it completely,” Mahmud Baraka said of the Brotherhood claim. “We are astonished by this bizarre behavior, which amounts to a hijacking of the election results.”
Mursi supporters screamed with excitement, some wiping tears from their eyes. Several hundred people staged a victory rally in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, the hub of protests that led to Mubarak’s departure in February last year.
However, their jubilation was overshadowed by a looming showdown between the Brotherhood and the ruling military, after a series of steps granting itself sweeping powers.
As Egyptians focused on the election, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces introduced de facto martial law, gave itself control of the legislature and state budget and granted itself veto power on a new constitution to be written by a panel it will pick.
“The military hands power to the military,” the headline of the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm read.
Revolutionary youth movements, which had been split over whether to boycott the election or to vote Shafiq out, denounced the declaration as a “coup,” while the FJP said it rejected any bid by the military to retake legislative power.
However, the military pledged again to hand power to the winner of the election by June 30 and said he would enjoy full presidential powers.
The military council will transfer power to the new president, who will swear his oath before the constitutional court, by “June 30, this month,” one of the ruling generals, Mamduh Shahin, said at a news conference.
Shahin and fellow ruling council member General Mohammed al-Assar had called the press conference to respond to criticisms of the military’s move.
“The elected president of the republic will be vested with all the powers given to the president,” al-Assar said
The generals said the military has taken only “restricted legislative powers” to create a balance with the president.