THE Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi won the bitterly contested race for Egypt's first democratically-elected president last night, prompting scenes of jubilation among the thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to hear the 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.
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".
Supporters of Egypt's new president, Mohamed Mursi, celebrate his victory in Tahrir Square. Photo: Reuters
It has been 16 months since the popular uprising forced Hosni 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 as much as 40 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, an economy in freefall and the military in firm control, Egyptians are weary.
Since Mr 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.
Farouk Sultan, the head of Egypt's Presidential Electoral Commission, announces the result of Egypt's first presidential elections in Cairo. Photo: AFP
In the lead up to yesterday's announcement both candidates claimed they had won 52 per cent of the vote, and the electoral commissions three-day delay in releasing the results resulted in claims that the election was being negotiated, rather than counted.
As tension mounted across the country, shops remained shuttered and tanks moved into position into 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," wrote the Egyptian, activist and author, Mahmoud Salem, who writes the Rantings of a Sandmonkey blog, late yesterday.
Repeatedly mocked as a "spare tyre", the 60-year-old Dr Mursi has always been seen as the Brotherhood's second choice for its presidential candidate after its first choice, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified.
Dr 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, Dr Mursi pledged to be an inclusive president who would include all Egyptians - "all forces, presidential candidates, women, Salafis and our Coptic brothers."
Mr Shafiq, who like Mr Mubarak is a retired air force general and who served as a former minister in the Mubarak government, is reviled by many, particularly those who spearheaded the 2011 revolution, as a feloul 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 Islamist-dominated parliament unconstitutional, which was closely followed by SCAF's supplementary constitutional declaration that gives the military council unprecedented authority.