Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory for its Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy who had been pitted against Ahmad Shafiq in a bitterly contested runoff that took place in the midst of an assertion of political power by a military group, marked by the dissolution of an elected lower house of parliament and an attack on civil liberties.

"Mohamed Morsy is the first popularly elected civilian President of Egypt," read a brief but triumphant message on the official website of Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Later, flanked by senior leaders from the FJP at a press conference in the early hours on Monday, Mr. Morsy pledged inclusivity and called for unity. "I will be a brother and servant to all Egyptians," he said. He added: "Thanks be to God who has guided Egypt's people to the path of freedom and democracy, uniting the Egyptians to a better future."

During his interaction with the media at the party’s Cairo headquarters, he promised “to build a democratic and modern state with a constitution". As he concluded his address, Mr. Morsy’s supporters broke into the national anthem — a carefully choreographed exercise to symbolise national unity and pride.

By daybreak, Mr. Morsy’s jubilant supporters had taken to the streets, in convoys of cars that honked in unison and chanted their candidate’s name. As the morning mist lifted over the Nile, houseboats played loud music in celebration of an historic event. Small crowds, waving Egyptian flags, also began to gather at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the icon of the Egyptian uprising, where Mr. Morsy was later scheduled to make and appearance.

The Brotherhood claimed that Mr. Morsy had won 52.5 per cent of votes while Mr. Shafiq, a former aviator and the last Prime Minister of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, secured 47.5 percent. Mr. Morsy’s campaign official Ahmed Abdel Atti said that the FJP was claiming victory after 98 per cent of the votes had been counted. But supporters in Mr. Shafiq’s campaign headquarters deplored the Muslim Brotherhood’s triumphalism. Ahmed Sarhan, Mr. Shafiq’s campaign spokesperson described the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims as “'absurd' and an exercise in “media manipulation”.

However, Reuters quoted another campaigner acknowledging that their leader was unlikely to make it past the finishing line.

Despite the conclusion of its first presidential election, Egypt’s fledgling democracy suffered a grave setback on Sunday when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a military clique that has been in charge of the country’s post-Mubarak political transition, issued a decree that severely curtailed presidential powers. With the Parliament already dissolved last Thursday, SCAF would now be in charge of making laws and controlling the budget.

The President has also been denied powers to declare war, unless the decision has the approval of SCAF — a move that implied that the military would not function under pervasive civilian control.

The decree issued on Sunday night as the counting of votes proceeded was denounced by pro-democracy Liberal and Islamist groups as a “military coup”.

“The ‘unconstitutional declaration’ continues an outright military coup,” tweeted Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist who had lost elections during the first round of the presidential vote. "We have a duty to confront it."

Elder statesman Mohamed ElBaradei said that the military’s declaration was a “grave setback for democracy and revolution”. "SCAF retains legislative power, strips president of any authority over army and solidifies its control," he tweeted. The Muslim Brotherhood condemned the decree as “null and unconstitutional.”

At the Brotherhood’s campaign headquarters, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Atti said that the SCAF’s ruling was likely to trigger “popular action,” setting the stage of yet another round of confrontation between the pro-democracy campaigners and an authoritarian military top brass.

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