Egypt Muslim Brotherhood claims victory in presidential vote

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Dr Mohammed Mursi celebrate in Cairo.

CAIRO - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory in historic presidential polls here on Monday, hours after the ruling military council issued a constitutional document claiming sweeping power, including legislative control.

"Doctor Mohammed Mursi is the first Egyptian president of the republic elected by the people," read a tweet from the official Twitter account of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm.

The party made the announcement after votes from nearly all Egypt's 13,000 polling stations had been counted. If confirmed, it will be the culmination of a long political struggle for the once-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

There was no immediate comment from the campaign of Mursi's opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, and official results are not expected until June 21.

The process was overshadowed by the amended constitutional declaration issued by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces late Sunday, which replaces an original document issued in March 2011 after Egypt's uprising.

The document grants SCAF legislative powers, after a top court on Thursday ordered the elected parliament dissolved, and gives it veto power over the text of a new permanent constitution.

It keeps SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi on as minister of defence for now, and says a new parliamentary vote will come only after a permanent constitution is drafted.

The Muslim Brotherhood immediately denounced the declaration, calling it "null and unconstitutional."

With votes from nearly 11,000 of Egypt's over 13,000 polling stations counted, the Muslim Brotherhood said tallies showed Mursi with 52.49 per cent of the vote to Shafiq's 47.5 per cent.

Shafiq's campaign had no immediate comment on figures. Official results are not expected until June 21, but a final unofficial tally is expected within hours.

Electoral commission officials extended voting for two hours on Sunday in part to allow people to cast their ballots in the relative cool of the evening, but they said turnout appeared lower than during the May 23-24 first round.

The SCAF declaration puts the military on a collision course with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, dominated the parliament effectively dissolved by a constitutional court ruling on Thursday.

After that ruling, which said a third of the body's members had been elected illegally, the military informed parliament it considered it dissolved, and Sunday's declaration confirmed its retaking of the legislative power it handed to the People's Assembly in January, after a drawn-out election process.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces shall exercise the powers referred to under the first clause of article 56 (on legislative power)... until the election of a new People's Assembly," the document reads.

Such an election cannot be held until a new permanent constitution is written and adopted by a referendum, it adds.

The writing of the new constitution will be carried out by a "constitutional commission representing all segments of the society" that will have three months to complete its work, the document says.

It also grants SCAF a veto right over any article of a draft constitution it considers "contrary to the supreme interests of the country."

Egypt's parliament has already appointed a constituent panel to replace an initial group that was dissolved over allegations it was Islamist-dominated.

But the declaration leaves it unclear whether that panel will be able to continue its work, and gives SCAF the right to form a new panel if the current body "is prevented from doing its work."

It also stipulates that SCAF "as currently constituted, has the power to decide on all matters related to the armed forces, the nomination of its commanders and the extension of their service."

The Muslim Brotherhood and revolutionary youth movements denounced the declaration as a "coup" and the Freedom and Justice Party said it rejected any bid by the military to retake legislative power.

And parliamentary speaker Saad al-Katatni, an FJP member, said the constituent assembly appointed by the parliament would continue its work.

The new political uncertainty comes after an electoral race that polarised the nation, dividing those who fear a return to the old regime under Shafiq from others who want to keep religion out of politics.

The new president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011.

The steps that have consolidated the power of the ruling SCAF have infuriated activists, who point to the court's annulment of parliament, as well as a justice ministry decision granting the army the right to arrest civilians, as proof of the military's plans to cement its power.

But the military says it does not want to stay in charge and has promised to hand power to the newly elected president by the end of the month.

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