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Egypt Elections: Morsi Claims Victory, But Constitutional Chaos Takes Center Stage

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EGYPT ELECTIONS MORSI
Two supporters of presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi ride a motorcycle flying Egyptian flags during celebrations claiming victory over rival candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt Monday, June 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser) | AP

CAIRO -- Before the sun rose over Cairo on Monday morning, Mohamed Morsi declared victory. In an early-morning press conference, representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate announced that he would defeat Ahmed Shafik by more than 1 million votes.

The news had sent Morsi's supporters into what one journalist called "a state of shock." The men at the podium could not contain their smiles as they announced the news, while several members of the crowd got to their feet to chant slogans about continuing the revolution. Before they returned to their seats, they added one more: "Down, down with military rule."

But after the first democratic presidential election in Egypt's history, the prospect of genuine civilian rule seems more distant than ever. Hours before Morsi pledged a "civil, democratic, constitutional state" at the press conference, the military government issued a declaration that it had rewritten key sections of that constitution, reserving many important powers for the generals.

Hossam Bahgat, an activist and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative on Personal Rights, wrote on Facebook that "The date of the 17th of June is no less important than the 25th of January. Our children will learn that this is the date of the end of the theatrics and the transformation into a military dictatorship."

In the declaration, which was released shortly after the polls closed at 10 p.m. on Sunday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) gave itself sweeping new powers, including a veto over military matters and the authority to issue laws in place of the Parliament that was dissolved last week. The military will also be able to appoint the panel that will write the country's permanent constitution if the current group does not act quickly enough.

And on Monday morning, SCAF raised the possibility that the divisive election might have to be repeated again in just a few months. "The upcoming president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees," said Sameh Ashour, the head of SCAF's advisory council, to Al Jazeera. "This is simply because a new constitution will be drafted, followed by new parliamentary elections to take on the legislative power; and therefore it is not possible in any event for the president to remain in office after a new constitution comes to the light."

But the military refuted suggestions that the declaration had left the presidency powerless. "We will send our laws to the president, and he can choose to issue them or not. Everyone is blowing this out of proportion," they said at a Monday press conference. They reassured the public that the president would be able to select his cabinet and that there would be "balance" between the civilian government and SCAF. "No one will return Egypt to the past," they claimed.

But SCAF's declaration still sets up the potential for a protracted battle between the Brotherhood and the military. After Parliament was dissolved last week by Egypt's constitutional court, the Brotherhood said that the court lacked any authority to do so. They employed the same argument last night, saying that the constitutional declaration was "null and invalid."

"The Brotherhood wants the military back in its barracks," said Shadi Hamid, Director of Research for the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar. "It's going to be a long fight, but the Brotherhood is prepared for that fight."

But even the result of the election itself is still unclear. The Muslim Brotherhood placed poll watchers in every one of Egypt's voting stations, but the numbers they announced on Monday morning are still unofficial.

While the Brotherhood says they reported the counts their observers received from election officials, the Shafik campaign called that the Brotherhood's announcement "entirely irresponsible" and claimed their own internal count shows Shafik in the lead. Officially certified results will not come until later in the week, meaning that a Shafik victory is still possible.

No matter who wins, Egypt's next president appears to face a constitutional crisis from an office with fewer powers than he could have anticipated.

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