- - Sunday, June 17, 2012

CAIRO — A surprising number of Egyptians shrugged off a major presidential election Sunday that will determine if their post-revolutionary nation is run by a former general associated with the old regime or a firebrand Islamist who wants to impose Shariah law.

Election officials said turnout was much lighter in the runoff election between Ahmed Shafiq, a retired air force general and last prime minister under ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The crowds are much lower than in the first round. We don’t know how to explain it,” said Hatem Bagato, the secretary-general of Egypt’s electoral commission, as officials prepared to begin counting the ballots Sunday night.

Early Monday morning with about half the vote counted, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory, saying Mr. Morsi held a 55 percent to 45 percent advantage. “Mohammed Morsi is the first Egyptian president of the republic elected by the people,” the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm, posted on its official Twitter feed.

Mr. Shafiq and Mr. Morsi emerged from the first round of the election on May 23 and 24 with the most votes among 13 candidates but without a majority of 50 percent plus one, which forced the runoff.

Sunday’s election opened with Egypt again in political tension. The country’s Supreme Court last week disbanded parliament, which was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members, allowing a transitional military to continue to govern. The court said the three-month parliamentary elections that began in November were illegal because political parties ran for seats reserved for independents.

It also struck down a law parliament passed that would have prevented Mr. Shafiq and other former Mubarak officials from running for office.

Saad al Katatni, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed speaker of parliament, Sunday rejected the court ruling and pledged to defy the military council by convening a new legislative assembly.

However, later Sunday, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces decreed an interim constitution that would let the military continue its grip on state power. Announced on state TV, the document will give the military power over the budget, let it pick the drafters of a permanent constitution under which a new parliament could be elected, and let the council pass legislation in the meantime.

Meanwhile, voters went to the polls to cast ballots in an election that frequently split whole families, 17 months after Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution forced Mr. Mubarak to resign after three decades in power. He was recently sentenced to life in prison for allowing Egyptian troops to kill anti-government demonstrators during an 18-day uprising that toppled his regime last year.

Just ahead of the court’s decisions, military police and intelligence agents were given extensive authority to arrest civilians for a wide scope of crimes.

Voters like Yasmine Rabie, a 25-year-old Nasr City resident, said the election has split her family.

“At home we’re divided,” she said. “It’s come to the point [where] we won’t talk about politics anymore.”

She said she reluctantly supported Mr. Morsi because she thought a Shafiq victory would symbolize a restoration of the old regime.

“Myself, my brother and mother are no fans of the Brotherhood, but we’ll choose Morsi,” Ms. Rabie said.

Story Continues →