CAIRO – As Egyptians voted in a second day of elections for a successor to Hosni Mubarak, the ruling military issued an interim constitution Sunday defining the new president’s authorities, a move that sharpened the confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood and showed how the generals will maintain the lion’s share of power no matter who wins.
With parliament dissolved and martial law effectively in force, the generals granted themselves considerable authorities. They will be the country’s lawmakers, control the budget and will control who writes the permanent constitution that will define the country’s future.
A significant question will be how their relationship will be with the new president who emerges from the Saturday-Sunday runoff between Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s former prime minister, and conservative Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Already, the Muslim Brotherhood was warning that they would launch protests if Shafiq is declared the winner. After polls closed Sunday night and counting began, the Brotherhood claimed to an early lead based on 1.38 million votes counted from 1 percent of the country’s 12,000 polling stations – with 61 percent to Morsi and 39 percent to Shafiq.
The sample was too small to indicate a real trend yet, but it showed the Brotherhood’s eagerness to set Morsi out quickly as the front-runner.
The figures were based on results announced by election officials at individual counting centers, where each campaign has representatives who compile the numbers and make them public before the formal declaration. Brotherhood announcements proved generally accurate in the first round of the election, held last month.
“If it happens that they announce he (Shafiq) is the winner, then there is forgery,” said Brotherhood spokesman Murad Mohammed Ali. “We will return to the streets” – though he added, “we don’t believe in violence.”
Shafiq, who is a former air force commander, is seen as the generals’ favorite in the contest and would likely work closely with them. So closely that his opponents fear the result will be a continuation of the military-backed, authoritarian police state that Mubarak ran for nearly 29 years.
A victory by his opponent, the conservative Islamist Mohammed Morsi, could translate into a rockier tussle over spheres of power between his Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
Sunday night, the Brotherhood seemed to lay the groundwork for a confrontation with the military over its power grab. It rejected last week’s order by the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving parliament, where they were the largest party, as a “coup against the entire democratic process.” It also rejected the military’s right to declare an interim constitution and vowed that an assembly created by parliament last week before its dissolution will write the new charter, not one picked by the generals.
However, the Brotherhood has reached accommodations with the generals at times over the last 16 months since Mubarak’s fall, as it reached deals with Mubarak’s regime itself. It also has no power to force recognition of the parliament-created constituent assembly, which already seems discounted after parliament’s dissolution and is likely to be formally disbanded by a pending court ruling. Lawmakers are literally locked out of parliament, which is ringed by troops.