Tahrir Square protests as Egypt awaits result
22 June 2012, 10:21
Cairo - Thousands of protesters filled
Cairo's Tahrir Square overnight as Egypt's rival presidential candidates, an
Islamist and former general, accused each of trying to steal an election whose
result is still not known five days after polling ended.
Another two days of uncertainty and name
calling seem likely over the weekend which begins on Friday, though there was
no immediate violence.
With confidence ebbing away in a process
Egyptians hoped would secure the democracy they thought they had won with blood
spilt on the square over a year ago, those camping out overnight demanded
military rulers reverse new orders that entrench the generals' power and called
on the election commission to declare the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi
Across town, in a luxury international hotel,
former general Ahmed Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak's prime minister when the
army forced out the dictator to appease the Tahrir protesters, challenged
Morsy's self-proclaimed victory and said he was sure he had won, despite
Islamist pressure on officials.
At a televised address to whooping and
cheering supporters, Shafiq said: "These protests in the squares, the
campaigns of terror and the media manipulation are all attempts to force the
election committee to announce a particular result."
Speaking in person rather than through spokespeople
as he has through the week, he added: "I am fully confident that I will be
the legitimate winner." He called for calm and unity, saying he would
invite opponents to join his administration.
In a country where ballot fraud was the norm
during 60 years of military rule, trust is low, not least among Brotherhood
officials who note that the electoral commission itself is made up of judges
appointed under Mubarak. A parliamentary vote in November 2010 that handed
Mubarak's party 90% of the seats was one of the triggers for the fury that
Brotherhood trying to intimidate officials
The military council, which has promised to
hand over to civilians by July 1, dissolved a new, Islamist-led parliament on
the eve of the presidential run-off and then issued a decree as polls closed on
Sunday setting strict limits on the powers of whoever would be elected
The Islamists say they fear the delay in
announcing the vote result is part of a plot to deny them the victory that
Mursi declared within hours of the polls closing.
The Brotherhood has released chunky volumes
of what it says are official documents from polling stations allowing it to
conclude Mursi won by four percentage points. Shafik's camp says the
Brotherhood is trying to intimidate officials to secure victory, or set the
stage for protests if it loses.
Sources on the commission, and in the
military, said earlier in the week that preliminary data favoured Mursi - but
officials are now bogged down in days of hearing complaints and appeals. Friday
and Saturday are the weekend and officials have suggested that a result on
Sunday is now likely, though not certain.
"We are taking our time to review the
appeals to investigate them properly but, God willing, the results will be
announced by Sunday at latest, if not before that," Judge Maher
el-Beheiry, a member of the election committee, told Reuters.
Among thousands who packed Tahrir after dark,
waving Egyptian flags and singing in what has become a familiar ritual over the
past year, Ahmed Youssef said he and his friends, Islamists from a province
north of Cairo, would camp out overnight to join a major rally after weekly
prayers on Friday.
"We thought the army would stand by the
revolution, and were surprised when it didn't," said the bearded
electrical engineer, 24, who supports a hardline Salafist Islamist group.
"We will stay here until the military
council hands over power," he added, voicing a widely-shared sense of
betrayal by generals who promised to rule only until elections.
Ehab al-Bahrawy, 29, a preacher and chicken
farmer from the distant suburbs of Cairo said: "I am staying until Dr
Mursi takes all his rightful powers. This is an open-ended sit-in."
The Brotherhood have called for permanent
vigils in town squares across the country.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud
Ghozlan said the delay "generates concern, no doubt", expressing fear
that the authorities were getting ready to announce Shafik the winner.
"The doubt extends to this
possibility," he told Reuters.
Egyptian media have described a nation on
"Egypt on the verge of exploding,"
Al-Watan daily wrote in a front-page headline, highlighting worries about how
supporters of rival camps will respond if their candidate loses. "Security
alert before the presidential result," wrote Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Mubarak back in
"The interest of the nation goes before
narrow interests," said reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN
diplomat and Nobel peace laureate on Twitter. "What is required
immediately is a mediation committee to find a political and legal exit from
the crisis. Egypt is on the verge of explosion."
Adding to unease, Mubarak is himself back in
the news, being transferred to a military hospital from the prison where he
began a life sentence this month. Security sources have said the 84-year-old
was slipping in and out of a coma but "stabilising". Many Egyptians
suspect the generals are exaggerating his illness to get their old comrade out
Mohamed Abdel Razek, a Mubarak defence
lawyer, said the former president had a stroke on Wednesday after he had a fall
during an accompanied visit to a bathroom at Tora prison.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad, Shaimaa
Fayed, Tom Perry, Edmund Blair, Patrick Werr, Tamim Elyan and Yasmine Saleh;
Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Peter Graff)