‘Trust us,’ Egypt’s military rulers say as Muslim Brotherhood wins presidency

The New York Times reports: Faced with the popular election of the first Islamist head of state in the Arab world, Egypt’s ruling generals sought on Monday to soften the appearance of their supreme authority as they entered a period of negotiations with the prospective president over the balance of executive, legislative and military power.

In a two-hour news conference, members of the ruling military council made no reference to the election results, which by early morning showed that Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood had defeated Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, in the runoff to choose Egypt’s first democratically elected president. The ballots were counted in front of television cameras and party observers in polling places around the country to prevent fraud, and independent observers concluded that Mr. Morsi had won by a margin of about four percentage points, or about a million votes.

The election officials will not formally confirm the results until later in the week, however, and Ahmed Sarhan, a spokesman for Mr. Shafik, insisted on Monday that the general was the true winner and the Brotherhood had “terrorized” voters. He offered no evidence, and both the state-run and unofficial media reported that Mr. Morsi had a decisive lead in the vote count.

The ruling generals had stunned Egyptians on the eve of the vote by dissolving the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament and claiming all legislative power for themselves in an apparent attempt to foreclose the possibility that Islamists could control both the presidency and the legislature.

Though they acted under the veneer of a court ruling rushed out last week by a panel of Mubarak-appointed judges, the power grab erased their promise to turn over all power to elected civilians by the end of this month, and both liberals and Islamists denounced the move as a military coup. The court ruling dispirited Brotherhood supporters, energized Mr. Shafik’s backers, and led many Egyptians to expect that either the psychological effect of the takeover or more direct intervention would push Mr. Shafik to the presidency.

In the aftermath of Mr. Morsi’s victory — considered an upset by many, despite the Brotherhood’s proven popularity and political clout — the generals sought Monday to reassure the public that they had no intention of re-establishing a military-backed autocracy, although they did not back away from their effective seizure of legislative power.

“Trust the armed forces,” two representatives of the military council, Gen. Mandouh Shahin and Gen. Mohamed el Assar, repeated many times over the course of the news conference. “We don’t want power,” both also said repeatedly, citing the presidential election as proof of their good intentions.

Despite their seizure of Parliament, they promised a grand celebration at the end of the month to mark their formal handover to the new president.

Issandr El Amrani adds: As I warned on Twitter, there should be caution about rushing to think Mohammed Morsi is Egypt’s next president. From my understanding from this morning’s figures, the difference between he and Shafiq is about 900,000 votes with over 3,000,000 votes uncounted. The Presidential Election Commission says it will not give the final results until Wednesday or Thursday and there is likely to be some contestation by both sides, and perhaps even partial recounts. Ultimately what the PEC says will hold, since you cannot appeal their decision.

So one real possibility is that Shafiq will be declared president and the MB, having already announced its victory, will go ballistic. Or that Shafiq will lose and his supporters will go ballistic.

And then there’s the question of parliament. It’s still expected that tomorrow MPs (at least Islamist ones) will march to parliament to hold a session on which they will decide parliament’s response to the court verdict. Except that parliament is surrounded by army troops who have orders not to let anyone in.

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