CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police were ordered to confront any attempt to break the law with decisive force ahead of the announcement Sunday of a new president as soaring tensions in the country raised fears of a new outbreak of political violence.
The electoral commission was to announce the results of last weekend's presidential runoff at 3 p.m. local time (1300 GMT, 9 a.m. EDT). The results of Egypt's first free presidential vote have been delayed for several days, giving way to wild rumors, speculation and anxiety about back room deals and suspected interference by the ruling military council in determining the outcome in favor of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's last Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
Shafiq and Islamist challenger Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood have both declared that they won what was by all accounts a very close race.
The announcement of the president was supposed to be the end of Egypt's post-uprising transition to democracy. However the military made a series of last minute moves that stripped the office of president of most of its major powers and kept those powers concentrated in the hands of the military. A court ruling a few days before that dissolved the freely elected parliament that was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the pro-democracy uprising, a swelling crowd of thousands gathered in sweltering midday heat awaiting the announcement. They were a mix of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis along with some of the revolutionary youth groups that drove last year's uprising. A separate pro-Shafiq rally of some 2000 protesters gathered in northern Cairo district of Nasr City.
A military official told The Associated Press late Saturday: "This time, we won't be kidding. We were kind ... before" with lawbreakers, adding that a curfew can be imposed if needed. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
On Saturday, authorities deployed extra security forces across the country, especially near key state institutions. Government and private sector employees were sent home early on Sunday, while many Egyptians stocked up on food and jewelry shops shut down because of concerns over new violence.
Armored vehicles and troops were deployed at exits and entrances to Cairo airport. Riot police clad in black uniforms with shields were deployed around parliament and the streets leading to the Cabinet building nearby were blocked by troops and armored vehicles.
Minister of Interior Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of police and other security forces, ordered top security officers in a meeting Saturday that police should "confront with firmness, force and decisiveness any attempt to violate" the law, according to a security official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
"Neither Morsi, nor Shafiq, Tantawi is the president of Egypt," read one headline of the weekly Sout el-Umma in a reference to the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years.
Egyptian media and social media are rife with the competing claims and theories about behind- the-scenes deals being cut at the last minute to divide up power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, the two biggest power brokers to emerge from the uprising that ousted Mubarak.
A leading Brotherhood member, Mohammed el-Beltagi, warned on his Facebook page that some within the current regime are pressing for reelections in a number of provinces around the country in order to "enable Shafiq to win in less tense atmosphere." He alluded to agencies, possibly a reference to security agencies still dominated by figures from the old Mubarak regime.
"... All parties and agencies must stop playing with fire," he wrote.
AP Correspondent Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.