In Egypt, Declaration of Winner in Presidential Contest Is Said to Be Near
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — The commission overseeing Egypt’s first competitive presidential election will declare an official winner on Sunday, the panel said Saturday, amid growing conviction that the announcement has become a bargaining chip in a negotiation for power between the ruling generals and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“As the beginning of a transition to democracy, it is a disaster,” said Omar Ashour, a political scientist at the University of Exeter and the Brookings Doha Center, who is here in Cairo. But, he added, the disaster began the day before the presidential runoff, when the military dissolved the Brotherhood-led Parliament and seized legislative power.
“The generals have their fingers on the reset button if they don’t like the outcome,” Mr. Ashour said. While the Brotherhood may have more legitimacy and the ability to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets, “the generals have the guns and tanks and armored vehicles,” he said. “We are playing realpolitik at the moment.”
Television talk shows have obsessed over fragmentary reports of conversations between Brotherhood leaders and the ruling generals, mainly a face-to-face meeting last weekend between the Brotherhood’s parliamentary leader, Saad el-Katatni, and Gen. Sami Hafez Enan. But a Brotherhood spokesman, Jihad el-Haddad, said Saturday that there had been no direct meetings since then, when the Brotherhood made its demands for the reinstatement of Parliament and the empowerment of an elected president.
What is more, he said, the Brotherhood agreed Friday that from now on any talks with the generals would be conducted by a new “national front” it had formed with more secular or liberal advocates of democracy. In so doing, the Brotherhood is acceding to arguments for greater collaboration and openness that have been for years advanced by its more liberal leaders.
Mr. Haddad also insisted that the announcement of a president was merely a first step toward the resolution of the standoff, adding that thousands of Brotherhood members and their allies have once again occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo. “The governing will within the national front is that there will be no meeting with SCAF unless there is an elected president,” he said, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
He acknowledged, though, that most Egyptians now believed that the weeklong delay in the announcement had turned the declaration of a president into a bargaining chip in the generals’ indirect negotiations with the Brotherhood and its new allies.
The members of the commission of judges overseeing the vote — all appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak — have said they delayed the announcement of the official results to investigate allegations of fraud from both sides. But the delay is a tacit threat to the Brotherhood, whose candidate, Mohamed Morsi, appeared to be the winner with 52 percent of the vote. His opponent, Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, has also declared himself the winner.
Both the Brotherhood and the generals have been fairly open about their bargaining positions. Indeed, the two sides appeared to have reached a rough accord on power-sharing just a few months ago, before it disintegrated in angry disputes over the transitional government and presidential elections.
“Now each side feels like the other did not live up to its end of the agreement,” said Michael Hanna, a researcher at the Century Foundation in New York. “The problem now is overcoming these accumulated suspicions.”
The Brotherhood’s leaders say their chief demand is the recognition of their victories in the parliamentary and presidential elections. They pointedly say that they respect a ruling on June 14 by the Supreme Constitutional Court that the military used as a writ to dissolve Parliament: that political parties were wrongly allowed to run parliamentary candidates competing for the one-third of seats set aside for individuals rather than party lists. But instead of the immediate dissolution of the whole legislature, the Brotherhood proposes new elections for those seats or perhaps accelerated elections for the whole chamber.
The Brotherhood also demands that the military council roll back the provisions of its interim charter stripping the incoming president of almost all of his power and making him largely dependent on the military council. “This would at least solve 75 percent of the problems we find with the decree, which gives the military council a veto over everything,” Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood’s chief strategist, told Reuters.
Since seizing power after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, the generals, for their part, have appeared focused primarily on a new constitution that could protect their power, their privilege and perhaps the generally secular character of the state. “The constitution is their biggest priority,” Mr. Hanna said. “It gives them a way to protect themselves, a legal shield.”
Under the old military-backed autocracy, top military leaders enjoyed nearly total autonomy and immunity from oversight, and they were allowed to build their own commercial empire far outside the defense industry. And in public statements the generals have repeatedly said they expect to preserve their empire and their autonomy within any new civilian government.
The generals have repeatedly rearranged the transitional timetables to ensure that the Constitution is written while they remain in power, and they have tried to insert specific provisions to protect their power and immunity.
And as recently as a few weeks ago, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the military council, said cryptically that the generals did not intend to leave power until a constitution was complete, even though the slow-starting constitutional assembly had no chance to finish before the generals pledged transfer of power on June 30. Now that the generals have renewed their hold on power, Mr. Hanna said, his meaning may be clearer.
Until the spring, the two sides seemed to have reached a rough agreement to ease the generals from power. Brotherhood leaders have said consistently that they expected, for at least the near term, only limited public scrutiny of the defense budget, working with the generals to manage defense matters, protecting them from criminal prosecution over events in the past and the continuation of their commercial empire.
The breakup appeared to begin when Parliament sought to replace the military’s prime minister and the generals refused. Evidently taking a cue from the generals, the bureaucracy — including the election commission — and the state news media grew more critical of the Brotherhood as the group grew more assertive.
The Brotherhood broke its promise not to run a presidential candidate, and the judges of the election commission blocked its first choice, Mr. Shater. The Brotherhood sought to dominate a constitutional assembly, and the court struck it down. And the standoff culminated in the parliamentary dissolution.
Now it is unclear if the two sides can return to their earlier accord, in part because neither one trusts the other. The generals said last week that they would give no ground on the shutdown of Parliament or on their interim constitution until the completion of a permanent charter.
Mr. Haddad, of the Brotherhood, said it, too, was digging in for a long fight. “We are prepared logistically to stay as long as we need to in Tahrir Square,” he said of the five-day old encampment there. “We have supply lines, coming in and out of Tahrir Square, so it is designed for a long stay.”