CAIRO — Officials postponed declaring a winner in Egypt's disputed election on Wednesday, sending political tensions soaring as the country awaited its first new president in three decades.
Adding to the confusion and uncertainty were reports about the health of Hosni Mubarak, who is serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of protesters in the uprising that ousted him last year. At one point Tuesday, he was said to be near death, while some believed the report was a pretext by sympathetic allies of Mubarak to transfer him out of prison to a more comfortable facility.
Last weekend's runoff election was long touted as a landmark moment — the choice of Egypt's first civilian president to take over the generals who have ruled since Mubarak's removal on Feb. 11, 2011. Instead, it has turned into a confrontation between the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the entrenched elements of Mubarak's old regime, including the military.
Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with some secular youth revolutionary groups camped out Wednesday night in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of last year's uprising, and denounced the military, trying to push back against a series of power grabs by the generals last week.
The Election Commission did not say when it would announce the winner of the runoff between the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, and Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Both candidates claim they won, and the commission was supposed to declare the top vote-getter Thursday.
But its secretary-general, Hatem Begato, told the state newspaper Al-Ahram that the winner would be announced Saturday or Sunday.
The commission said the announcement was postponed because a panel of judges must look into about 400 complaints of voting fraud submitted by both campaigns, including lawyers for Shafiq claiming fraud in 14 of Egypt's 27 provinces where they said ballots sent to polling centers were already marked for Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate. Morsi's lawyers accused Shafiq of buying votes and being involved in forging lists of registered voters to include soldiers, who are barred from voting, and names of the dead.
The Brotherhood says it is being targeted by an organized campaign to keep it out of the presidency, and that even if Morsi is declared the victor, he will face deep resistance that will make it impossible for him to govern.
After two days of voting that ended Sunday, the group declared Morsi won 52 percent of the vote. Shafiq's camp on Monday announced he had won 51.5 precent of the vote.
A group of independent jurists known as the Judges For Egypt said Morsi was the winner, with a similar proportion to the Brotherhood's count. Shafiq's campaign accused the group of being affiliated with the Brotherhood.
Foreign and local election monitors say the runoff was not marked by enough serious or large-scale irregularities to question its validity.