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Military guards Egypt power as Islamists claim victory

Egypt's passage from revolution to democracy was in limbo on Monday, as the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory in a presidential election while the generals who took over from Hosni Mubarak decreed it was they who would keep power for now. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Updated at 11:09 p.m. ET: As Egyptians waited for the results of the presidential election, the ruling military council issued new rules that made clear the real power remains with the army.

The Muslim Brotherhood's party on Monday declared its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, had won the country's first free presidential election, defeating Ahmed Shafik, ousted president Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.

But at Shafik's campaign headquarters, Ahmed Sarhan said: "I do not accept this, I will not file wrong numbers." However, another campaigner said: "I don't think we will make it." One woman campaigner at Shafik's headquarters was in tears.

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Egyptian supporters celebrate the apparent victory of their presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi, in Tahrir Square, Cairo on Monday.

 


Hours earlier, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a decree granting itself broad power over the future government, diminishing the authority of the president and seizing control of the process of writing a permanent constitution, The New York Times reported.

The move is the latest in a series of steps that the military has taken recently to hold on to power they had promised to hand over to elected civilians, the Times reported.

The military council's "constitutional declaration" -- issued under powers it took for itself after pushing aside Mubarak to appease street protests 16 months ago -- was a blow to democracy, said many who aired their grievances on social media, a favored weapon in the Arab Spring that ended Mubarak's 30-year rule.

'Outright military coup'
"Grave setback for democracy and revolution," tweeted former U.N. diplomat and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

"SCAF retains legislative power, strips president of any authority over army and solidifies its control," he added.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Egyptian election workers count votes at a polling station on June 17, in Cairo.

"The 'unconstitutional declaration' continues an outright military coup," tweeted Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a moderate Islamist knocked out in the first round of the presidential election last month. "We have a duty to confront it."

A Facebook page whose young activists helped launch the uprising mocked the army's order, noting Egypt would have a head of state with no control over his own armed forces: "It means the president is elected but has no power," one comment read.

Turnout, which was only 46 percent in the first round of the presidential vote, appeared to electoral officials to have been no higher for the decisive head-to-head contest.

Many of the 50 million eligible voters were dismayed by an unpalatable choice between a man seen as an heir to Mubarak and the nominee of a religious party committed to reversing liberal social traditions. Some cast a ballot against both men in protest.

In a victory speech at his campaign headquarters, Morsi clearly sought to assuage the fears of the large sector of Egyptians that the Brotherhood will try to impose stricter provisions of Islamic law.

"Thank God, who guided the people of Egypt to this right path, the path of freedom and democracy," the bearded, 60-year-old U.S.-educated engineer declared, promising to "be a president for all Egyptians".

He mentioned churches and Christians several times and hardly mentioned Islam or Muslims.

The order from Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the chairman to the Supreme Council, indicated that the army, which also controls swathes of Egypt's economy, has no intention of handing substantial power now to its old adversary, the Brotherhood.

"SCAF will carry legislative responsibilities ... until a new parliament is elected," the council's order said.

It raised a question of how, even if a civilian head of state is sworn in this week, Tantawi can claim to have met his own deadline of July 1 for relinquishing control -- a deadline the armed forces' major patron and paymaster the United States had stressed in recent days it was expecting him to respect.

Washington and Egypt's European allies, also major providers of aid to the most populous Arab state, had voiced concern when Tantawi, backed by a judicial ruling from a court appointed under Mubarak, dissolved the parliament elected in January in which the Brotherhood and hardline Islamists had a big majority.

'Dangerous days'
The Brotherhood has rejected the army's power to dissolve parliament and warned of "dangerous days."

But though some have compared events to those in Algeria 20 years ago, which ended in civil war between the military and Islamists, many doubt that the Brotherhood has an appetite for violence at present.

Many opponents of military rule have also complained that the Brotherhood has overreached itself in seeking both legislative and presidential power.

Egyptians massed in their millions against Mubarak in January last year in the hope that his removal would end poverty, corruption and police brutality. Many now seem tired of the social turmoil and political bickering that ensued.

Egypt's armed forces have built up massive wealth and commercial interests, helped since the 1970s by a close U.S. alliance which followed the decision of the most populous Arab state to make peace with Israel.

Many Egyptians say the army is just one wing of an entrenched security establishment that has resisted reform and oversight since Mubarak left and would wield influence long after the promised handover to an elected civilian.

"There is no doubt that the state in all its institutions -- judicial, military, interior, foreign and financial -- back Shafiq for president and are working to that end," said Hassan Nafaa, a politics professor who campaigned against Mubarak.

"It is very difficult to eradicate this spirit of Mubarak."

Reuters and the Associated Pres contributed to this report.

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