Egypt’s ruling military warned on Friday it would “deal firmly” with any attempt to harm the public interest, and blamed political divisions on the release of unofficial presidential poll results by candidates.
The statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was read out on state television, as thousands of people packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square to denounce what they said was a power grab by the army ahead of the naming of a new president.
Former Egyptian general Ahmed Shafiq said late Thursday he was confident of victory in last weekend’s presidential election, stepping up a war of words with his Islamist opponent as Egypt waits anxiously for the delayed result.
Mohammed Mursi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared victory early on Monday, within hours of polls closing.
Shafiq aides disputed that during the week, though the candidate himself kept a low profile. One spokesman for him said on Wednesday that exit polling showed the run-off vote was “too close to call.” But Shafiq’s public statement, broadcast live, was a further step in efforts to challenge the Islamists.
“I am fully confident I will be the legitimate winner,” he told cheering supporters at a Cairo hotel. He criticized Mursi for trying to put pressure on the electoral commission by declaring victory and calling for street protests.
Mursi’s supporters say they fear that the delay in announcing results may indicate an attempt to fix the result in favor of Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister.
Shafiq said that, if elected, he would offer to bring in a broad range of opinion into his administration.
Many Egyptians, and Western powers, have voiced concern that the interim army rulers have changed constitutional arrangements this month, even as the presidential election was being held, to let them retain power whoever is declared the winner.
Demands of Jan. 25 revolution
Muslim Brotherhood’s official spokesperson Mahmoud Ghuzlan said on Thursday that the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), are going to participate in Friday’s protest till the demands of the Jan. 25 revolution are fully met, Egypt’s online edition of al-Ahram daily reported.
The Brotherhood had already started a sit-in in Tahrir Square as of Wednesday in protest of reject the High Constitutional Court ruling to dissolve the People’s Assembly and its delaying the announcement of the final results of the presidential elections.
The Salafist al-Nour Party also called on its members and supporters to join Friday’s protest in Tahrir in an official statement on Thursday, announcing its refusal of what it referred to as a coup against democratic transition.
Among the groups and parties participating in the rally are al-Wast Party, the 6th of April Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and Socialist Popular Alliance Party.
Some activists declared that they will not participate in the protests organized by the revolutionary powers, arguing that they are organized only to accomplish the Muslim Brotherhood interests.
Al-Ahram Online quoted activist Nawara Negm as saying: “I will not go to the protest because it is organized only for the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests and I do not trust the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The military council, which has promised to hand over to civilians by July 1, dissolved a new, Islamist-led parliament on the eve of the presidential run-off and then issued a decree as polls closed on Sunday setting strict limits on the powers of whoever would be elected president.
“The military council should hand power over to the winner of the first presidential election in Egypt and fulfill their promise to the Egyptian people,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted by Egypt’s daily al-Masry al-Youm as saying.
Clinton’s comments came during talks in the presence of former Secretary of State James Baker. She accused the generals of reneging on their promises.
A nation on edge
Egyptian media have described a nation on edge.
“Egypt on the verge of exploding,” al-Watan daily wrote in a front-page headline, highlighting worries about how supporters of rival camps will respond if their candidate loses. “Security alert before the presidential result,” wrote al-Masry al-Youm.
“The interest of the nation goes before narrow interests,” said reformist politician Mohammed ElBaradei, a former U.N. diplomat and Nobel peace laureate on Twitter. “What is required immediately is a mediation committee to find a political and legal exit from the crisis. Egypt is on the verge of explosion.”
Adding to unease, Mubarak is himself back in the news, being transferred to a military hospital from the prison where he began a life sentence this month. Security sources have said the 84-year-old was slipping in and out of a coma but “stabilizing.” Many Egyptians suspect the generals are exaggerating his illness to get their old comrade out of jail.