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Egypt Polls Close, Military Asserts Power

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Egyptian elections officials count ballots at a polling center during the second day of the presidential runoff, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, June 17, 2012.

Egyptian elections officials count ballots at a polling center during the second day of the presidential runoff, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, June 17, 2012.

CAIRO - Egyptians are awaiting the results of an election for their first post-revolution president. But shortly after the polls closed, the role of the new leader became less certain.

The vote counting got underway even as the powers of the next president were thrown further into doubt. State media reported that Egypt's ruling military council has issued a constitutional declaration, believed to grant them control of legislation, the budget and the panel that will draft the new constitution. More details were expected Monday.

The sweeping move follows the court-ordered dissolution of parliament and comes two weeks before a deadline the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, had set to hand over the running of the country to a civilian leadership.

Man-in-the-street video by Davin Hutchins and Stephanie Figgins:

Adding to the uncertainty was a lack of enthusiasm about the two presidential candidates, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, reflected in a low voter turnout.

Voter Safinaz Hassan cast her ballot in Cairo with her two daughters. She would not reveal who she preferred, but expressed ambivalence about both. "There's nothing but these two,” she said, “May God choose the most capable one.”

Resignation was mixed with concern about rising tensions over the court ruling on parliament, and the SCAF's consolidation of power. The moves have sparked outrage among some of those who helped topple the Mubarak government, and who allege the military is in the final stages of implementing a “soft coup.” Meanwhile, the candidates traded accusations that the other would lead the country down a dangerous path.

The claims and counterclaims had voters like Tayssir Hussein el-Qaleie on edge.

She wished the rhetoric leading up to the election had not happened . She said it will cause the nation “to flare up.”

Voting proceeded for the most part calmly, although there have been reports of heavy-handed security tactics directed at some people observing the vote. One Egyptian monitor complained of problems when Mr. Shafiq, a former Air Force commander who enjoys the support of many in the military, cast his vote on the first day of balloting Saturday.

He explained how security guards stopped people from voting when Mr. Shafiq entered the polling station. He says when he complained about being blocked from going in as well, police ignored him.

But an official for Mr. Morsi's campaign, which claimed its candidate had a substantial lead after the first day of voting, said initial indications were that the vote was proceeding fairly.

Ahmed Abdel Aati said the most important guarantee of a free election was a high voter turnout.

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But the choice between an Islamist or a member of the old government has proven unpalatable to many. In the first round, less than half of registered voters took part, and of them, only a quarter chose either Mr. Morsi or Mr. Shafiq. Some argue a victory by either represents a reversal of the gains of the revolution last year. They urged either a boycott, or a nullification of ballots.

Yet, in this heavily Islamic country with a long tradition of looking up to its military, a curious combination can be found.

At a polling station along the Nile in Cairo, a middle-aged women was nearly in tears as she implored God to be on Egypt's side.

Soad Nasr prayed for God to improve the country - for God to make Egypt better. She voted for Mr. Shafiq.