CAIRO – As Egyptians began tallying votes in their presidential runoff election Sunday night, the ruling military council expanded its control over the country yet again, issuing a constitutional amendment to grant itself war powers and raising new questions about what authority the country’s first freely elected president would actually have.
The council’s decision came just as polls closed in the two-day runoff, and after 2 million votes were counted, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, was in the lead. However, the results were considered preliminary given that Egypt has 50 million eligible voters, and as tallies trickled in throughout the night and into this morning there was rampant speculation that the military council would attempt to rig the results in favor of deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
What was once celebrated as a revolution that toppled Mubarak and could have inspired the Arab world has increasingly become a counter-revolution by the ruling generals, who have reinstated martial law, dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament and will control who writes Egypt’s new constitution.
The military amended the temporary constitution to define the powers of the president and gave itself the final say over major military matters. Under the change, the president can’t declare war without the military council’s approval, and the council itself will decide its commanders. In the absence of a parliament, the new president will take the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court, which consists of Mubarak appointees.
Even before the military council’s announcement, the vote was shrouded in suspicion over the generals’ intentions, with many Egyptians convinced that it would ensure a victory for Shafiq. The Muslim Brotherhood, which held 47 percent of seats in the now-dissolved parliament, has increasingly clashed with the generals and on Sunday seemed to signal that it would protest if Shafiq was declared the winner.
While final results aren’t expected until Wednesday or Thursday, Egyptians could know the winner by this morning, based on tallies of election monitors posted at polling stations around the country. However, the series of moves by the military made it clear that voters had elected a president without knowing what his powers would be.
In the days leading up to the runoff, the military council named itself in charge of the legislative branch after the constitutional court ruled that some parliament members had been elected illegally. With that, the constitutional assembly was now under control of the generals. The generals announced Sunday that an assembly will write the permanent constitution within three months of being named, and the document will be put before a public referendum within 15 days. The composition of the constitutional assembly remained unclear.