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Egypt tense as news outlets claim Shafik to be named president

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 the country’s military leaders, would declare that Ahmed Shafik, a holdover from former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, had won.

Newspaper websites across Egypt cited anonymous officials as saying that the commission, which is led by a judge whom Mubarak appointed, would find that Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, had finished first in last weekend’s voting, perhaps by alleging that 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-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’d won. It also warned that protesters who object to the election results, which could be announced as soon as Saturday, should “behave” or face strict enforcement of the law.

Morsi and representatives of the parties whose demonstrations toppled Mubarak last year also appeared concerned by the developments. In an effort to show a united front in what’s been a fractured revolutionary movement, the Muslim Brotherhood gathered 22 intellectuals and revolutionary leaders to announce that they endorsed the Brotherhood’s finding that Morsi had won.

Morsi, who once was called the “spare tire” because he became the Brotherhood’s candidate after the group’s first choice was disqualified, went on to give his most presidential and eloquent speech to date, promising 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.”

Hani Shukrallah, the founding editor of Ahram Online, a website affiliated with the newspaper Al Ahram, said that based on statistics it had collected from judges at Egypt’s polling stations, Morsi won, collecting 51.9 percent of the vote. On Friday, however, Shukrallah’s site also reported that it had reached sources that said Shafik would be declared the winner.

Shukrallah said he thought the leaks might be an indication that negotiations between the Brotherhood and the military over what a new government might look like might have collapsed.

Now 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,” he 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 that 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 that the council itself would have final approval over who’d serve in a constitutional assembly charged with writing a permanent constitution. Just before the election, the military council reinstated martial law.

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.

The election commission hasn’t said when exactly it will announce the election results. The release has been scheduled, then delayed at least twice. The current expectation is that the result will be made known by Sunday.

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