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Egypt on edge as election results delayed until Sunday

Egypt’s election commission announced Thursday that it would delay the official results in the nation’s first contested presidential election until possibly as late as Sunday, fueling already-rampant speculation that the ruling military council may be trying to rig the results.

The Presidential Election Commission, which is led by a judicial holdover from the regime of toppled President Hosni Mubarak, announced the delay a day after saying the results would be released Thursday. He said the delay was necessary so that the commission could be deliberate in its review of more than 400 complaints by the candidates, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Among the accusations is that the Morsi campaign stuffed boxes with 1 million forged ballots in polling stations nationwide. According to Morsi’s campaign, its candidate leads Shafik by 887,014 votes out of nearly 25.6 million cast.

But Egyptians – who in the days since last weekend’s election have endured wild rumors about Mubarak’s health, military-ordered changes in their temporary constitution and competing claims over who won the election – were doubtful that any public official was being honest. Some drew money from their bank accounts and stocked up on food as rumors flew of tanks positioned on the roads leading to Cairo.

Many feared violence as the ruling military council, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Parliament, Shafik and the constitutional assembly tasked with writing a permanent document jockeyed for power.

Some wondered whether the military council was leveraging an official election announcement to get concessions from Morsi on how he’d govern. If the generals didn’t get what they wanted, this speculation went, the ruling council would declare Shafik the winner.

Some Brotherhood members appeared on local television stations and said the military council was threatening them. But Mahmoud Ghozlan, a Brotherhood spokesman, told McClatchy there’d been no communication between his organization and the military about the release of election results.

“That is speculation,” Ghozlan said.

The Brotherhood called on its followers to go back to Tahrir Square on Friday to express their outrage at the military’s council changes to the constitution, giving itself all power over military matters and a final say in the drafting of a permanent constitution. As Egypt’s most effective political organization, the Brotherhood was likely to draw large crowds to the square.

Egypt remained in a state of limbo Thursday over which one of two vastly different directions the nation was headed. Many said that whoever won, the military ultimately would be in charge. More than anything, many Egyptians have said they yearn for stability.

In a phone interview Thursday with a television station, Presidential Election Commission Secretary-General Hatem Bagato said the panel was considering 220 complaints by Morsi and another 190 by Shafik.

Earlier the election commission said Shafik’s campaign had asked that one of three remedies be considered to deal with what it alleged were 1 million fraudulent ballots it had found throughout the country: reducing Morsi’s vote total by that amount, scheduling new voting in the areas where the forged ballots had been discovered or throwing out last weekend’s voting entirely and holding a new election.

The government-owned newspaper Al Ahram reported on its website Thursday that the commission was considering requiring new voting in 100 districts where both Morsi and Shafik had lodged complaints.

McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this report.

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