Egypt on Edge as Election Result Nears; Thousands Gather in Tahrir Square

Armored vehicles are posted in Cairo at election committee headquarters and government information office.

Egypt's ruling armed forces were on alert on Sunday as fears of violence mounted in the final hours before the state election committee is to name the winner of last weekend's presidential election at 4 P.M.

Mohammed Morsi of the long-oppressed Muslim Brotherhood has already claimed to be the successor to the ousted Hosni Mubarak. Millions of his Islamist loyalists may react with fury if the run-off goes to Ahmed Shafiq, a former general and Mubarak ally.

Few troops were on the streets but security officials said they were ready to respond to trouble. Government workers around Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters had gathered, were encouraged to go home for the day.

Armored vehicles were posted in the capital at the election committee headquarters and the government information office where a news conference will end an anxious week of waiting.

The result will be historic for the Middle East, but will not end power struggles between the army, Islamists and others over Egypt's future.

Morsi says he won the race to lead the biggest Arab nation, even if the generals who have been in charge since Mubarak was ousted 500 days ago are not giving up their control just yet.

The Brotherhood and liberal-minded activists who galvanized the street last year against Mubarak may react angrily if the election committee announces the winner is instead Shafiq, a former air force commander and last prime minister of the old regime. Like Mubarak, every president for six decades has emerged from military ranks.

Many Egyptians, and millions across the region, would see a Shafiq win as a mortal blow to last year's Arab Spring revolt, despite his assurances of also wanting an inclusive government.

"Egypt waits for the president and prepares for the worst," wrote Al-Masry Al-Youm daily in a front-page headline, referring to concerns about violence erupting. Echoing that, Al-Watan wrote: "The Brotherhood prepares the stage for Morsi, and an intense security alert in case of a Shafiq win."

The new president will emerge with fewer powers than the candidates, pruned by a first round of voting in May, had expected when the army promised civilian rule by July 1.

"Everyone in Egypt is worried. The army must know the result and must have taken precautions," said Ali Mahmoud, a 44-year-old taxi driver, worried like many Egyptians that months of turmoil is not over yet. "If Shafiq wins, we will have a lot of problems. If Morsi wins then protests should be less."

The ruling military council, which pushed Mubarak aside on Feb. 11, 2011 to appease the protesters in the streets, has stripped the presidency of many powers and dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament elected in January.