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Tensions run high as Egyptians await runoff results

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Friday, June 22, 2012, 9:58 p.m.

CAIRO - Egypt's ruling military and the main political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, are engaged in a high-stakes power negotiation, observers say.

The delay until Sunday of an official count from last weekend's presidential runoff - three days later than first promised -has fed rumors of hard bargaining on whether and how to share power.Both runoff candidates have claimed victory.

The uncertainty and unrest worry many Egyptians. A recent newspaper headline screamed of a looming "massacre of the century."

In this tense atmosphere, the military has moved boldly to consolidate its hold despite U.S. warnings that $1.3 billion in annual aid could be jeopardized. Unconfirmed rumors late last week told of tanks on highways into the capital.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has held massive rallies for its presidential contender, Mohamed Morsy. It warns of a "dangerous face-off" if Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general and the last prime minister of the ousted Mubarak regime, is declared the winner.

The military council and the Muslim Brotherhood are heatedly dealing behind closed doors and muscle-flexing in public, experts say.

Hani Shukrallah, managing editor of Al Ahram Online, a leading newspaper website, said "psychological warfare is being used by both sides."

He said the Mubarak-era state intelligence services are managing the meetings and both sides are "exchanging threats."The Brotherhood, he said, is "using the street" and "milking this opportunity to appear once more as a victim ... being oppressed by the police state."

Although "this looks like a very chaotic transition ... I believe we are watching an incredibly structured and orderly pact-making process," said Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert and associate professor of political science at Kent State University.

Stacher, author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria, is here to observe the election.

He believes the ruling military council, the Brotherhood and senior statesmen are "in heavy negotiations" to "incorporate" the Brotherhood into the government.

Shukrallah said the generals who have ruled Egypt since last year's uprising "are surprised" by the Brotherhood's intransigence.

"(They) are saying that when the Brotherhood were strong, they negotiated - now they are weak and they don't have popular support and they are being confrontational."

"I have never seen the Brotherhood so disliked so intensely," said Shukrallah, author of Egypt, The Arabs and The World.Egyptians increasingly criticize the Brotherhood for being ineffectual and preoccupied with Islamic doctrine since winning control of parliament in January.

In the past two weeks, Egypt's high court dissolved parliament, citing electoral irregularities, and the justice ministry expanded military-police arrest powers.

The military has issued directives severely restricting presidential authority, stacking a national defense council with generals, and giving itself the authority to appoint a constitutional assembly.

The Brotherhood and its ultra-religious Salafi partners in parliament previously packed the same constitution-writing panel.

Stacher predicts the Brotherhood's Morsy has been told to "shut up" about parliament's dissolution and the military's power grabs if he wants the presidency. Otherwise, "it is going to be Shafiq" who wins.

Al Ahram Online reported Saturday that a deal between the two sides could require the military to accept holding new elections for just a third of parliamentary seats; the Brotherhood would accept the military's limitations on presidential authority.

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