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Saturday, June 23, 2012 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.

Egypt's new president could be a blast from the past

By Nancy A. Youssef
McClatchy Newspapers

CAIRO, Egypt — Although the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate appeared to have won the Egyptian presidency numerically, there were increased rumblings Friday that the election commission, at the direction of military leaders, would declare deposed President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister had won.

Newspaper websites across Egypt cited anonymous officials as saying the commission, led by a judge appointed by Mubarak, would find Ahmed Shafiq had finished first in last weekend's voting, perhaps by alleging the Brotherhood had rigged the balloting in favor of its candidate, Mohammed Morsi.

Such a development would leave the United States with two unenviable choices, said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. It could support either an anti-American, anti-Israeli but democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president or a military council that appears to obstruct democracy but still embraces the United States and peaceful Egyptian-Israeli relations.

"People are torn" over what the U.S. response should be, Alterman said.

The military council fueled speculation Friday by issuing a rare statement chastising Morsi for his declaration early this week that he had won. Protesters who object to the election results, which could be announced as soon as Saturday, also were warned to "behave" or face strict enforcement of the law.

Morsi's rebuke

Concern was growing that the competing claims and the military's seeming reluctance to transfer power to an elected president could set the stage for a violent confrontation. The military recently gave officers the right to detain civilians without criminally charging them.

Hours after the military statement, Morsi appeared at a news conference with a host of Brotherhood stalwarts, public intellectuals, and youth leaders viewed as secular. He said he would await the final results, but his supporters made clear they believed Morsi was the legitimate victor.

Morsi appeared to rebuke the military council for its recent moves to expand its powers and warnings against peaceful protests, and to dampen persistent speculation that the Brotherhood is brokering a power-sharing deal with the generals.

In his most presidential and eloquent speech to date, Morsi also promised an independent prime minister and a peaceful response to recent moves by the military to consolidate power.

He made a point of differentiating between the ruling military council and the army's rank and file, whom he called "the sons of Egypt."

Conflicting campaigns

Hani Shukrallah, founding editor of Ahram Online, a website affiliated with the newspaper Al Ahram, said data collected from judges at polling stations indicated Morsi had won, with 51.9 percent of the vote. Shukrallah's site, however, also reported that its sources were saying Shafiq would be declared the winner.

The military is "putting as much pressure as possible to get the Brotherhood to concede that they would have to be a junior partner with the military in a power-sharing agreement," Shukrallah said. "They could have leaked this to us and others as part of a psychological campaign or it could be true, in which case they have decided to go all out to campaign against the Brotherhood."

Since last weekend's runoff election, the ruling military council has moved forcefully to consolidate its prerogatives. It announced it had amended the country's temporary constitution so that the new president would have no say over military matters. It also changed the constitution so the council itself would have final approval over who would serve in a constitutional assembly charged with writing a permanent constitution. The military council also reinstated martial law before the election.

In Tahrir Square, hundreds of thousands of Morsi supporters gathered Friday to object to the recent military moves. Lines of buses — provided by the Brotherhood — surrounded the square, waiting to take people back to the provinces. The protesters' presence appeared to be intended as a show of force.

Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.

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