EGYPT’S ruling authorities have delayed the result of the country’s first free presidential election, furthering fears the army was mounting a coup to prevent the formation of a democratically-elected Islamist government.
The state news agency announced that the President Election Commission was still reviewing appeals in last weekend’s count so would delay Thursday's announcement.
“We cannot announce when exactly the timing of the announcement of the Egypt election results will be because now we are at the stage of listening to the representatives,” its secretary-general, Hatem Bagato, told the Reuters news agency.
“The committee will meet afterwards to decide on whether to accept the appeals or not.”
The Muslim Brotherhood and most newspapers and independent panels claim that Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Brotherhood’s political front the Freedom and Justice Party, won the count by a slim margin of just short of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
An attempt to prevent him taking up office, following the army’s earlier announcement it was dissolving the Brotherhood-led parliament and taking over its powers, could trigger a potentially disastrous confrontation.
A Brotherhood spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, had already warned earlier that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year, might be preparing to steal the election. He said that the refusal by Mr Morsi's opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, a former general and Mubarak-era minister, to concede defeat and his insistence that he would be declared the victor raised suspicions that the army had "bad intentions".
"If Shafiq is declared the winner, this will make the coup clear," Mr Ghozlah, told the Saudi-backed newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat. "This encroachment on the result may lead to a confrontation between the people and the army".
Suspicions over the intentions of the army among both the Brotherhood and the young secular revolutionaries was exacerbated by the sudden - and incorrect - announcement that ex-president Hosni Mubarak was "clinically dead" on Tuesday night.
The election polls closed on Sunday night, with 14,000 polling stations handing in their results to the Commission and the candidates by next morning. Mr Shafiq has yet to make clear how his figures for the totals are different from everyone else's.
The Commission has confirmed it is examining 400 complaints from both sides, but Dr Morsi's lead of almost a million votes would require very heavy and one-sided disqualifications to be overturned.
There were further reports that the Commission, whose head, Farouq Sultan, was appointed by Mubarak, was preparing to postpone an announcement.
The Brotherhood has so far backed off a major showdown with the army, even though it has already this week announced the dissolution of the Brotherhood-led parliament and reserved to itself the right to legislate, set a national budget and veto any part of the new constitution that is being drawn up.
The Brotherhood led a march of tens of thousands of people to Tahrir Square on Tuesday night in protest but, in contrast to the days of revolutionary fervour leading to the overthrow of Mubarak, they then dispersed.
Today a cluster of banners and a handful of young men and food stalls were the only sign of resistance to the all-powerful military council.
Reports of Mubarak's demise distracted protesters on Tuesday night.
Although there seems no doubt that he is seriously ill – his doctors say he suffered a stroke and remained unconscious and on life support – his opponents claim there is a pattern of exaggerating his health crises in order to win sympathy and to distract from politics. On Tuesday night, various reports had Mubarak "clinically dead", "dead", or in a coma. His heart reportedly failed in prison and had to be defibrillated.
Mubarak, 84, who was jailed for life earlier this month for complicity in the murder of hundreds of protesters in the uprising last year, was joined by his wife Suzanne at the Maadi Military Hospital where he was taken on Tuesday night from Tora Prison.
The premature announcement of his death by state media on Tuesday night, combined with the uncertain outcome of the election, caused much mirth on social networks. "We have two presidents, and a third who is both dead and alive," said one comment on Twitter.