World Bulletin / News Desk
Five hundred days after they overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians will finally have a new president on Sunday, the first they have chosen freely and who may well be from the Muslim Brotherhood, which Mubarak and fellow generals spent a lifetime fighting.
The result of last weekend's run-off, due in an election committee news conference at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT), will be historic for Egypt and the Middle East. Many think Islamist Mohamed Morsy will become head of state of the biggest Arab nation, reshaping the region after decades of Western-backed military rule, even if the armed forces are not giving up their control just yet.
The Brotherhood may react if it is instead Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and Mubarak ally. His victory many Egyptians, and millions across the region, would fear as a mortal blow to last year's Arab Spring revolution.
After an anxious week of street protests at Cairo's Tahrir Square and angry accusations between rivals of subverting the new democracy, 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 from July 1.
The ruling military council, which pushed Mubarak aside to appease the protesters in the streets, has just stripped the post of many powers and dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament elected in January. Yet the presidency is still a prize, even if the vote will not end the power struggles over Egypt's future.
Brotherhood supporters camped out in Tahrir Square, where the revolution was won, were generally in festive mood, though fear of disappointment still nagged, after decades of rigged elections. In counterpoint, a few thousand rallied on Saturday in a middle-class Cairo suburb to declare support for the army.
Morsy, a 60-year-old, U.S.-educated engineer and political prisoner under Mubarak, declared victory within hours of polls closing last Sunday - a move condemned by the generals. In a sign of continued confidence, he has already met other groups and drafted an accord to form a national coalition government.
His party issued a statement on Saturday saying it had called on "all partners in the nation, from all movements, to take part in this national platform, to guarantee the success of what we have achieved and their active participation in rebuilding the country in the manner it deserves".
One of those involved, Abdel Gelil Mostafa of the reformist National Association for Change, told Reuters on Saturday: "We agreed on a general programme, especially for if Morsy won.
"That seems probable. But, we will know tomorrow."
Protests to continue
By contrast supporters of Shafik, 70, who was Mubarak's last prime minister in his final desperate days, kept a low profile, although he did declare publicly on Thursday he was confident.
A victory for Shafik could spark protests from well-organised Islamist movements, which the army and security forces might confront on the streets.
However, there have been indications from senior figures in the Brotherhood and military council that they have prepared for a Morsy presidency in meetings since the election.
While officials deny any negotiation over the long drawn out process of tallying the election results themselves, there would be greater scope for compromise to defuse tension over what many have called the army's "soft coup", against parliament and the powers of the president, if Morsy is made head of state.
The Brotherhood has said it will go on protesting until the military council cancels the dissolution and a decree which gave its legislative powers to itself, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But were its candidate to be confirmed in office, then the wary symbiosis between the two old enemies, seen since Mubarak was ousted, may continue in a new form.
Deadline for military role
Thousands of Brotherhood supporters were in Tahrir Square again on Saturday, chanting "Victory for Morsy!" and "Morsy, Morsy, Allahu akbar!" (God is greatest), while waving national flags.
"We want the military council to announce the real results without forgery," said Hassan Eissa, 43, an accountant from north of Cairo who was demonstrating on the square.
"They have no right," Eissa said. "Egyptians shouldn't be under any kind of guardianship after the revolution."
The generals, who oversaw Mubarak's departure on Feb. 11, 2011, have repeatedly said, both to Egyptians and to their close U.S. ally, that they will return to barracks and hand over to civilian rule. But they moved to block the Islamists from taking more than a share of power.
While they have said that inaugurating the new president by July 1 will meet the deadline they set themselves for civilian rule, their moves in the past 10 days to curb the presidency and hang on to a veto over legislation, as well as to claim a role in drafting a new constitution, mean that the process goes on.
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"I have the scars to prove it," quips the former secretary of state, painted by her enemies as "crooked," "corrupt" and even an enabler of her husband's affairs.