Thousands of Egyptians have packed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against the ruling military council’s decision to claim new powers, amid contesting claims by both presidential candidates of victory in the weekend’s election.
In the hub of the uprising that deposed president Hosni Mubarak, protesters chanted against his military successors, with a steady trickle of people joining the demonstration after sunset.
The demonstration on Tuesday comes against a backdrop of uncertainty over the winner of the presidential vote, with the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and his rival, former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, both claiming victory.
Earlier on Tuesday, a campaign spokesman for Shafik said he had won the presidential election, countering the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims that its candidate was the winner.
Ahmed Sarhan told a televised news conference in Cairo that Shafik won 51.5 per cent of the vote and dismissed the claim of victory by Morsi’s campaign as “false”.
“General Ahmed Shafik is the next president of Egypt,” said Sarhan, adding that the candidate won some 500,000 votes more than Morsi.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said the claims did not come as a surprise.
“What we have at the moment is both sides claiming they have won, and both sides are using exactly the same figures,” he said.
Against this backdrop of conflicting victory claims, thousands of protesters began to gather following afternoon prayers in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
‘Down with military rule’
Led by the Muslim Brotherhood, participants in Tahrir Square rally chanted “Down with military rule”. The opposition April 6 Youth Movement had called on its supporters to join the protests.
Hundreds more protested in front of the parliament building, a few hundred metres away from Tahrir Square, against a decree by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolving the Islamist-led parliament, following a constitutional court ruling last week which found the legislature to be unconstitutional.
The Brotherhood was present in strength in the protests, called by several groups which had participated in Egypt’s 2011 uprising, against measures by the ruling military council to claim sweeping powers.
“The dissolution of the parliament is null and void, the military council must leave and now legitimacy lies with the people who elected Morsi,” said Abdel Basset Mohieddine, a Brotherhood support taking part in the protest.
The SCAF declaration also grants it veto power over the wording of a new permanent constitution and appeared to interfere with the ability of the incoming president to exercise his powers.
With official results in the presidential poll, the first since the uprising that removed Hosni Mubarak, not expected before Thursday, both camps claimed victory for their candidates.
At a news conference earlier on Tuesday, Morsi’s campaign released what they said were the certified figures transmitted by election officials to the electoral commission, which they said showed their candidate taking 52 per cent of the vote.
Egyptian state media reported that counts showed Morsi ahead.
“After the counting was finished in all of Egypt’s 27 provinces, indications show that Mohammed Morsi has won 51 per cent and Ahmed Shafik won 49 per cent,” the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper said on its website.
A confirmed win for Morsi would mark the first time the Islamists had taken the presidency of the Arab world’s most populous nation.
After campaign officials announced his projected victory on Sunday, there were scenes of jubilation at Morsi’s Cairo headquarters from where the candidate pledged to work “hand-in-hand with all Egyptians for a better future, freedom, democracy, development and peace”.
“We are not seeking vengeance or to settle accounts,” he said, adding that he would build a “modern, democratic state” for all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike.