CAIRO — 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 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.
A swelling crowd of thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square in sweltering midday heat awaiting the announcement. They were a mix of the mostly liberal, secular youth groups that drove last year's uprising and supporters of Shafiq's Islamist challenger, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
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 Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi and Shafiq have both declared that they won what was by all accounts a very close race.
A day ahead of the announcement, authorities deployed extra security forces across the country, especially near key state institutions. Government and private sector employees will be sent home early on Sunday, while many Egyptians were stocking up food in an indication of the concerns over new violence.
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.
Egyptian media and social media such as Facebook and Twitter 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.
Both candidates have rallied supporters to the streets in a show of strength.