The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi has won the bitterly contested race for Egypt's first democratically-elected president, prompting scenes of jubilation amongst the thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to hear the long-awaited election results.
Dr Mursi won 51 per cent of the vote, while his rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general who served as prime minister in the dying days of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, won 48 per cent of the vote.
In a speech that stretched to 45 minutes, the head of the Presidential Electoral Commission, Farouk Sultan, described the announcement as an important step "in building our emerging democracy".
Historic day ... thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and newly elected president, Mohamed Mursi take to the streets in celebration. Photo: Reuters
Egyptians have anticipated this moment for so long - it has been 16 months since the popular uprising forced Mubarak from power and speculation continued to the last minute, with the electoral commission typically late for its own announcement.
After enduring 30 years of a dictatorship that ended with an economy in freefall and the military in firm control, Egyptians are weary. Since Mubarak stood down, there have been parliamentary elections, Shura Council (upper house) elections, presidential elections and a run-off, as well as two short-lived committees formed to draft the new constitution. Many now say they want the political games to end and the democracy they fought so hard for to begin.
In the lead up to yesterday's announcement, both presidential candidates claimed they had won 52 per cent of the vote, and the electoral commission's three-day delay in releasing the results drew claims that the election result was being negotiated, rather than decided by the counting of votes.
First freely-elected president ... Mohamed Mursi. Photo: AP
As tension mounted across the country, shops remained shuttered and tanks moved into position in the increasingly empty streets around Cairo.
The army was reportedly ready to deploy 150,000 soldiers and police throughout the country for the announcement, while many business owners said they would stay at home rather than risk a potential outbreak of violent clashes between security forces and protesters.
"There are two presidential candidates that are so close in terms of votes that it makes half of the country hostile to whomever is coming," the Egyptian, activist and author, Mahmoud Salem, who writes the Rantings of a Sandmonkey blog, wrote late yesterday.
Defeated ... Ahmed Shafiq.
Repeatedly mocked as a "spare tyre", the 60-year-old Mr Mursi has always been seen as the Brotherhood's second choice for its presidential candidate after its first choice, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified.
Mr Mursi narrowly won the first round of elections last month with 24.7 per cent of the vote against Mr Shafiq's 23.6 per cent.
In his final campaign speech, Mr Mursi pledged to be an inclusive president who would include all Egyptians - "all forces, presidential candidates, women, Salafis and our Coptic brothers".
Mr Shafiq, a retired air force general who served as prime minister in the Mubarak government, is reviled by many, particularly those who spearheaded last year's revolution, as a candidate irreparably tainted by the old regime.
He warned that a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood would bring Egypt "back to the dark ages".
Mr Shafiq was almost disqualified from the presidential race after the Islamist-dominated parliament adopted a law prohibiting senior members of the Mubarak era from running in the elections, but the decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Egypt is already reeling from a Supreme Constitutional Court decision that declared the parliament unconstitutional, which was followed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' supplementary constitutional declaration that gives the military council unprecedented authority.
"There will be no return to barracks at the end of this month, despite the promise of a symbolic ceremony in which the military leadership will hand power to the president," wrote Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.