By The Associated Press
CAIRO (AP) -- As vote counting began in Egypt's election for the successor to Hosni Mubarak, the ruling military issued an interim constitution Sunday that handed themselves the lion's share of power over the new president, enshrining their hold on the state and sharpening the possibility of confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
With parliament dissolved and martial law effectively in force, the generals made themselves the country's lawmakers, gave themselves control over the budget and will determine who writes the permanent constitution that will define the country's future.
That could set Egypt on the path of continued turmoil, particularly if conservative Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood emerges the victor in the presidential run-off against Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister. Already, the Muslim Brotherhood was warning that they would launch protests if Shafiq is declared the winner.
Partial results made public by the Muslim Brotherhood showed the race very tight. With just over 80 percent of the more than 13,000 polling stations nationwide counted, Morsi had 52.5 percent of the vote and Shafiq 47.5 percent. The stations counted so far amounted to 22.6 million votes, but it was not known how many votes were left to tally.
The figures were from results announced by election officials at individual counting centers, where each campaign has representatives who compile the numbers and make them public before the formal declaration. The early, partial counts proved generally accurate in the first round of the election last month, which narrowed the field down from 13 candidates to two.
"If it happens that they announce he (Shafiq) is the winner, then there is forgery," said Brotherhood spokesman Murad Mohammed Ali. "We will return to the streets" -- though he added, "we don't believe in violence."
Shafiq, a former air force commander, is seen as the generals' favorite in the contest and would likely work closely with them -- so closely that his opponents fear the result will be a continuation of the military-backed, authoritarian police state that Mubarak ran for nearly 29 years.
A victory by Morsi could translate into a rockier tussle over spheres of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
Trying to rally the public in the last hours of voting, the Brotherhood presented a Morsi presidency as the last hope to prevent total control by the military council of Mubarak-era generals.
"We got rid of one devil and got 19," said Mohammed Kanouna, referring to Mubarak and the members of the military council as he voted for Morsi after night fell in Cairo's Dar el-Salam slum. "We have to let them know there is a will of the people above their will."
Sunday night, the Brotherhood seemed to lay the groundwork for a confrontation with the military over its power grab. It rejected last week's order by the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving parliament, where they were the largest party, as a "coup against the entire democratic process." It also rejected the military's right to declare an interim constitution and vowed that an assembly created by parliament last week before its dissolution will write the new charter, not one picked by the generals.
However, the Brotherhood has reached accommodations with the generals at times over the past 16 months since Mubarak's fall, as it struck deals with Mubarak's regime itself.
It also has no power to force recognition of the parliament-created constituent assembly, which already seems discounted after parliament's dissolution and is likely to be formally disbanded by a pending court ruling. Lawmakers are literally locked out of parliament, which is ringed by troops.
The race has been deeply polarizing. Critics of Shafiq, an admirer and longtime friend of Mubarak, see him as an extension of the old regime that millions sought to uproot when they staged a stunning uprising that toppled the man who ruled Egypt for three decades.
Morsi's opponents, in turn, fear that if he wins, the Brotherhood will take over the nation and turn it into an Islamic state, curbing freedoms and consigning minority Christians and women to second-class citizens.
While each has a core of strong supporters -- each got about a quarter of the vote in the first round voting among 13 candidates last month -- others saw the choice as a bitter one. The prospect that the generals will still hold most power even after their nominal handover of authority to civilians by July 1 has deepened the gloom, leaving some feeling the vote was essentially meaningless.
"Things have not changed at all. It is as if the revolution never happened," Ayat Maher, a 28-year-old mother of three, said as she waited for her husband to vote in Cairo's central Abdeen district. She said she voted for Morsi, but did not think there was much hope for him. "The same people are running the country. The same oppression and the same sense of enslavement. They still hold the keys to everything."
The winner will be officially announced Thursday. But the result could be known by as early as Monday morning, based on the results from individual counting stations. Security was tight in Cairo on Sunday, with heavier-than-usual army and police presence and army helicopters flying low over the sprawling city of some 18 million people.
Turnout seemed tepid in most places over the two days of voting. A figure significantly lower than the first round's 46 percent would be a sign of widespread discontent with the choice and doubts over the vote's legitimacy. There were no figures yet from the current voting.
Just before the election, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled since Mubarak's fall, slapped de facto martial law on the country, giving military police and intelligence agents the right to arrest civilians for a host of suspected crimes, some as secondary as obstructing traffic. Then came the high court ruling dissolving parliament.
Now, whoever wins, the military council will hold powers that can all but paralyze the president if it chooses under the interim constitutional declaration issued Sunday just after polls closed.
According to a copy of the document obtained by The Associated Press, the generals would be the nation's legislators and control the budget. They also will name the 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution, thus ensuring the new charter would guarantee them a say in key policies like defense and national security as well as shield their vast economic empire from civilian scrutiny.
The president will be able to appoint a Cabinet and approve or reject laws.
Under the document, new parliament elections will not be held until a new constitution is approved, meaning an election in December at the earliest. In the constitution-writing process, the military can object over any articles and the Supreme Constitutional Court -- which is made up of Mubarak-era appointees -- will have final say over any disputes.
The generals, mostly in their 60s and 70s, owe their ranks to the patronage of Mubarak and are led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the ousted leader's defense minister of 20 years. All along, activists from the pro-democracy youth groups that engineered the anti-Mubarak uprising questioned the generals' will to hand over power, arguing that after 60 years of direct or behind-the-scenes domination, the military was unlikely to voluntarily relinquish its perks.
Earlier Sunday, the Brotherhood's speaker of parliament Saad el-Katatni met with the deputy head of the military council, Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Anan and told him the group does not recognize the dissolution of parliament, according to a Brotherhood statement that pointedly referred to el-Katatni by his title.
El-Katatni insisted the military could not issue an interim constitution and that the constituent assembly formed last week would meet in the "coming hours" to go ahead with its work in writing the permanent charter.
Few voters displayed an air of celebration visible in previous post-Mubarak elections.
"It's a farce. I crossed out the names of the two candidates on my ballot paper and wrote 'the revolution continues'," said architect Ahmed Saad el-Deen in Cairo's Sayedah Zeinab district.
"I can't vote for the one who killed my brother or the second one who danced on his dead body," he said, alluding to Shafiq's alleged role in the killing of protesters during last year's uprising and claims by revolutionaries that Morsi's Brotherhood rode the uprising to realize its own political goals.
AP correspondent Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.