Officials on Wednesday postponed declaring a winner in Egypt's disputed presidential election, sending political tensions soaring as the country awaited its first new leader in three decades.
Adding to the confusion and uncertainty were reports about the health of former President 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 from prison to a more comfortable military hospital.
Last weekend's runoff election had long been touted as a landmark moment -- the selection of Egypt's first civilian president to take over from the generals who have ruled since Mubarak's removal 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 revolutionary youth groups camped out Wednesday night in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of last year's uprising, and denounced the military as they tried to resist 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 today.
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 who claim fraud in 14 of Egypt's 27 provinces where they said ballots sent to polling centers were already marked for Morsi. 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 dead people.
Last week, a court order dissolved parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood, and the military issued a constitutional declaration that makes the generals the nation's legislators and gives them control of the budget.
Privately, U.S. officials expressed concern that a Shafiq victory could have dangerous fallout, with protests and ensuing instability that could lead the military to take even stronger measures. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
While the Brotherhood and secular revolutionary groups have denounced the military's moves, some Egyptian liberals see the steps as a way to prevent an Islamist takeover by the 82-year-old Muslim Brotherhood, or ensure that its hold on power is difficult and temporary.
The Brotherhood has warned that a win by Shafiq, widely seen as an extension of the Mubarak regime, could only be the result of fraud and that it would send its supporters into the streets.
Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, was at his bedside in the military hospital where he had been moved. Security officials said a team of 15 doctors, including heart, blood and brain specialists, was supervising his care.