Middle East

Egypt's future hangs in the balance

Supporters of Mohammed Mursi in Tahrir Square on Thursday
Image caption Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have flooded Tahrir Square to protest against the delay in announcing the election results

The decision of Egypt's Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) to delay announcing the country's new leader has added to the state of confusion already reigning over the polarized country.

The results of Egypt's tightly-contested presidential run-off had been expected on Thursday, but the five-judge committee said it needed more time to analyse appeals over allegations of electoral violations filed by both candidates.

The news raised speculation that the delay gives time for backroom dealings between the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf), and the rising Islamist power; the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to some Egypt-watchers, the military generals, realizing that the Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Mursi will be the winner of the presidential race, are now seeking to strike a deal on a "safe exit", which would grant them immunity against prosecution.

The Islamists, on the other hand, want to take back president's powers which the Scaf withdrew in a constitutional declaration announced earlier this week.

Deal denial

"It is not exactly negotiations, there is too much animosity now for that," Dr Gaber Nassar, a professor of constitutional law, told the BBC.

"But this is what we can call 'soft pressure' exercised basically by the Scaf on the Islamists, who naturally accept compromises."

The Brotherhood, however, deny that there have been any deals negotiated.

"There are no negotiations. We stopped negotiating with the Scaf since the talks over the constitution-drafting assembly," Brotherhood leader Saad al-Hussieny said, referring to the 100-member panel assigned to write the country's new constitution.

Mr Hussieny admitted that a meeting was held earlier this week between the Scaf and another Muslim Brotherhood leader, Saad al-Katatni, speaker of the Islamist-dominated lower house of the parliament which the ruling generals dissolved last week.

"But the strong message we sent in that meeting was that we utterly reject dissolving the assembly and reject also the complementary constitutional declaration," he said.

The election committee gave no date for a declaring the result, but the speculation is that it might be announced in the weekend.

Mr Mursi and his rival Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, have both claimed to have won the election to choose a successor for Mubarak, who was ousted 17 months ago in a popular uprising.

'Raised anxiety'

The delay in announcing the results has left anxious Egyptians on edge.

Naama, 49, who lives in the working-class Sayyida Zainab neighbourhood in Cairo, says she is worried by the hold up.

"The more they delay it, the more fearful I become," said the niqab-clad woman who refused to give her surname.

"We just wanted to rejoice having a new president! It does not matter to me whether he is Shafiq or Mursi."

Image caption Earlier in the week, Ahmed Shafiq held a press conference to say he believed he had won

The debate over the results can be heard everywhere on the capital's ever-busy streets.

"There was absolutely no need for delaying the results," Cairo resident Mahmoud Eid told the BBC.

"They only raised people's anxiety, and Tahrir is the proof," said the 32-year-old said, pointing his finger towards the direction of the square in the heart of the capital which has been the scene of constant protests over the past few days.

A sit-in was launched on Wednesday by protesters who reject the Scaf's decision to take back wide-ranging powers for themselves and there is a call for a one-million-man march in Tahrir and other squares on Friday.

Anything could happen

Monitors say that instead of the election results being announced this weekend, we could see a range of unexpected scenarios play out.

Analyst and international law expert Ayman Salama says that anything could happen, including cancellation of the results and the re-holding of the elections, at least in the governorates in which candidates claimed there were a long list of violations.

Dr Nassar, the constitutional law expert, agrees.

"The delay could wind up bringing a sudden change on the electoral map. Anything is possible in a transitional period where is no more rationale," he said.

But the Muslim Brotherhood warns that such scenario would only bring "confrontation", though not of the violent type.

"Altering the results would have grave consequences. It will be a setback that no one can tolerate," warned their leader Saad al-Hussieny.