The Muslim Brotherhood, long repressed by Egypt's military dictatorship, claimed victory yesterday in the race to choose the country's first freely elected president and set up a dramatic confrontation with the army over his future powers.
The Brotherhood said Mohammed Morsi, leader of its political front the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), won a narrow but clear victory by a margin of 51.5 to 48.5pc of the weekend's votes, and would take up the reins of office by June 30.
Its proclamation was challenged by Mr Morsi's main rival, the former general Ahmed Shafiq, whose campaign manager accused the Brotherhood of "an act of piracy" and of using "totally false figures" to support its "hijacking" of the results.
But as the polls closed, Egypt's interim military government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), moved to take away much of the new president's authority.
It declared it would reserve legislative and budget powers for itself until a new parliament was elected. Crucially, it said that would not happen until a permanent constitution was in place -- a constitution whose drafting it would oversee and which it reserved the right to veto.
The FJP issued a statement rejecting the dissolution of parliament, raising the possibility that it would now set up a "shadow government" to rival the army. "The parliament remains valid and holds legislative power and control," it said. The army's statement, released after the polls had closed, was condemned by Egypt's revolutionary activists. They won powerful backing when the United States, Egypt's main military backer, stepped in. "We're deeply concerned about new amendments to the constitution declaration, including the timing of their announcements," a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said.
"We support the Egyptian people and their expectation that the SCAF will transfer full power to a democratically elected civilian government."
On the surface, the Brotherhood is caught in a trap. After 80 years of political persecution, Mr Morsi's victory represents a moment of triumph it is unwilling to cast aside.
On the other hand, if it co-operates with the army and negotiates a partial political transition, it runs the risk of damaging its own credibility as an independent voice.
Last night, there were signs that the Brotherhood would continue the policy it pursued through much of Mr Mubarak's reign, of seeking a middle path. It said it would take part in "all popular activities against the constitutional coup", starting on Tuesday when activists are calling for demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
But it also insisted it was ready to work with the army. "We have abolished the word confrontation from our dictionary," the Brotherhood's spokesman, Yasser Ali, said.(© Daily Telegraph, London)