Egypt Tightens Security Ahead of Presidential Election Results

Supporters of Mohamed Morsi protest in Tahrir Square
Supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, protest against Egypt's military rulers in Tahrir Square and celebrate a premature victory on June 23, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images)

Egyptian security forces readied for the possibility of violence as officials were due to announce the winner of a polarizing presidential race in which both candidates have claimed the lead.

Several tanks and armored personnel carriers were stationed around the Egyptian capital and the Interior Ministry said police and the military would deal firmly with any disruptions. The security plan came days after the ruling military council announced on June 22 that orders issued “in the name of the people” must be respected and that it would use force to prevent chaos. Businesses began sending employees home early and some banks closed.

The build-up of security ahead of the 3 p.m. announcement comes as tensions have grown in the presidential race claimed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi and Ahmed Shafik, who served as Hosni Mubarak’s last premier. Supporters of both men held rallies yesterday to support their claims. Islamist groups and other activists in Egypt have backed Mursi’s claim of a win, leaving open the possibility of violence should Shafik emerge triumphant.

“The whole narrative in Egypt, and the rest of the world, would be a stolen election” if Shafik is declared the winner, said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Doha Center. “What we know from history is that stolen elections lead to mass protests. Does the military really want to go in that direction? It’s already bad, as it is.”

Divisive Candidates

The candidates are the two most divisive to have emerged from the first-round vote last month. Mursi was portrayed by Shafik as a candidate seeking to install Islamic law and likely to take orders from the Brotherhood’s top leadership. Shafik, meanwhile, is seen by the Islamists and the revolutionary youth groups that helped topple Mubarak last year as wanting to revive the former regime.

A win by Mursi would embolden the Brotherhood and “they’re going to use that legitimacy to challenge SCAF head-on,” Hamid said referring to the military council by its acronym. “That’s a level of uncertainty that could easily descend into more instability and chaos, and perhaps even violence,” he said.

The results, originally scheduled for June 21, were delayed because the election commission needed time to review appeals, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported June 20.

The ruling generals have come under pressure after they awarded themselves new legislative powers and limited those to be held by the incoming president. The move, on top of a court-ordered dissolution of the Islamic-dominated parliament, has outraged Islamists and revolutionary activist groups, who have dubbed the steps a “coup.”

Series of Rallies

The Brotherhood has held a series of rallies in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising, over the past week. Shafik’s supporters gathered yesterday in another part of the city, demonstrating near a parade area where Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by Islamists.

The discord over the vote and the enduring unrest in the 16 months since Mubarak’s ouster have battered Egypt’s economy, leaving whoever comes to power facing challenges that include unemployment, inflation and demands for greater social services.

Political tensions have stalled efforts to negotiate a $3.2 billion loan accord with the International Monetary Fund. Credit-default risk rose to the highest since 2008 on June 21.

Stirring Tensions

The military and Mursi, who heads the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, traded blame on June 22 as the ruling generals issued its statement on unrest. The military also blamed the Brotherhood, without naming it, of stirring tension by prematurely announcing the results of the runoff.

Mursi, 60, criticized the dissolution of parliament and the expansion of the military’s powers.

Mursi has stressed that he would be a president for all, reiterating in a June 22 press conference that he would appoint deputies and advisers representing all segments of Egyptian society, including the minority Christians. He was flanked at the event by several secularist leaders.

Shafik, 70, a former air force commander who briefly served as premier in the last weeks of Mubarak’s rule, ran on a law-and-order platform, highlighting the deterioration of security since the revolt last year. He told a press conference on June 21 that he is confident of winning, and accused the Brotherhood of trying to pressure the election committee through protests.

Military Poll

A Gallup poll showed that a majority of Egyptians believe it would be a “bad thing” if the military remained in politics after the presidential election. The survey, conducted in April, showed that the percentage of those who didn’t like the idea had dropped to 58 percent compared with 71 percent in February.

In addition, the percentage of those who believed the ruling generals would hand over power after the election dropped to 73 percent in April compared with 84 percent in February. The survey, based on interviews with 1,074 Egyptians, had a margin of error of margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

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