In Egypt, a winner said to be near
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CAIRO -- The commission overseeing Egypt's first competitive presidential election will declare an official winner today, 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.
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 implicitly threatens the Brotherhood, the 84-year-old Islamist group that is Egypt's best-organized political force.
A public ballot count showed its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, ahead, with 52 percent of the vote. His opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general and 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 Mubarak's ouster, the generals, for their part, have appeared focused 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.
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 media grew more critical of the Brotherhood as the group grew more assertive.
Now it is unclear if the two sides can return to their earlier accord, in part because neither one trusts the other.
First Published June 24, 2012 12:00 am