Tensions between Egypt's ruling military council and the Muslim Brotherhood have mounted, as official results for the presidential run-off elections are expected this weekend after controversial delays have raised doubts about the legitimacy of the electoral process.
The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, or SCAF, released a statement Friday, indirectly criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood for prematurely announcing victory for its candidate Mohammed Morsi only hours after polls closed last Sunday.
"Anticipating the announcement of the presidential election results before they are announced officially is unjustifiable, and is one of the main causes of division and confusion prevailing the political arena," read the statement.
"I am fully confident that I will be the legitimate winner," proclaimed Morsi's opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, contesting the Brotherhood's claim.
Shafiq, a former prime minister under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, is viewed by the Brotherhood as a vestige of the old regime and the SCAF's preferred candidate.
Official election results were expected Thursday but have been pushed back, possibly until Sunday, leading to speculation that the results are being tampered with, in a country deeply familiar with rigged elections.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians have already flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square, following the Supreme Court's decision last week to dissolve the Brotherhood-dominated lower house of parliament and temporarily transfer legislative power to the SCAF until new elections are held, a move which the Brotherhood has characterized as a military coup.
The judiciary also granted the military power to arrest civilians for trial in military courts until a new constitution is ratified.
The SCAF also issued a decree to extend its powers beyond the end of the election process. "The issuance of the supplementary constitutional decree was necessitated by the needs of administering the affairs of the state during this critical period in the history of our nation," the SCAF said.
"The verdicts issued by the judiciary are executed in the name of the people, and refraining from implementing these verdicts is a crime punishable by law," it added.
Mohamed Beltagy, the secretary general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, has rejected the court's rulings, which he feels were partial in favor of empowering the SCAF.
"The military council is calling for respect for the legitimacy of the state and its laws, but we are asking for there first to be respect for the legitimacy of the parliamentary election and the will of the people," Beltagy told the Reuters news agency.
"The Brotherhood restates its rejection of the constitutional declaration, which is itself unconstitutional," he added. "The military council does not have any legal rights to issue such a decree."
Protests in Tahrir Square continued Friday with a strong showing among supporters of the Brotherhood.
Shafiq commented on the protests late Thursday, accusing the Brotherhood of inciting populist fervor and pressuring for election results prematurely.
"These protests in the squares and fear-mongering campaigns in the media are all aimed at putting pressure on the election commission," he said.
Morsi has not publicly commented on the pending election results or the public protests, but there is already widespread belief among his supporters that he is the winner and that no other decision would appease protesters.
Even so, there is concern that the SCAF has already diminished the next president's powers and would seek to marginalize Morsi if he ends up winning.
"This is a classic counter-revolution that will only be countered by the might of protesters," said Safwat Ismail, 43, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Reuters reported. "I am staying in the square until the military steps down."
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