Egypt's ruling generals were yesterday accused of mounting a "soft coup" by assuming sweeping new political powers even as the Muslim Brotherhood claimed a dramatic victory in the final round of the presidential polls – the country's first since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak last year.
Egyptians living in downtown Cairo awoke to the sound of honking car horns as supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood's candidate, rushed towards Tahrir Square to celebrate what they believe is an epoch-making victory after the knife-edge vote. Arriving at his central Cairo headquarters yesterday morning, Mr Morsi assumed the mantle of the victor with a triumphant speech.
But even as he proclaimed a democratic victory, there were fears about the creeping hand of the ruling generals, who took over in the wake of Mubarak's ouster to oversee the transition to an elected government.
In a grim augury for the future of the country's revolution, the military council issued a decree on Sunday night granting itself sweeping new powers, including oversight over legislation and the ability to appoint a committee drafting the new constitution. It has led to suggestions from some political groups that Egypt's generals remain intent on undermining the country's transition.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood was accused of pre-empting the official results of the weekend's elections, which are not due out until Thursday. "Thank God, who guided the people of Egypt to this correct path, the road of freedom, democracy," Mr Morsi declared.
His supposed triumph – announced by his group just hours after polls closed – was immediately disputed by officials working alongside his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, who was Mubarak's last prime minister. Speaking on Egypt's ONTV channel, Mr Shafik's spokesman condemned the Brotherhood for pre-empting the official count.
He accused the Islamist organisation of engaging in "pathetic media manipulation" by announcing preliminary figures on its website. In an interview with The Independent, another official working for Mr Shafik suggested the Brotherhood was subverting the democratic process.
Whoever won, they did so by a whisker. Figures released by Mr Morsi's team – based on private tallies by campaign workers obtained from judges overseeing counting stations – claimed their man had triumphed with 52 per cent of the vote, just four points ahead of Shafik. On the flip side, the Shafik campaign said their candidate had his nose ahead with between 51 to 52 per cent of the vote.