Egypt's ruling military council pledged today to hand over power by the end of the month to the newly elected president, hours after the Muslim Brotherhood claimed its Islamist candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won the first free presidential vote since authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was forced out in 2011.

Maj-Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, a senior member of the ruling council, said the generals would transfer power in a "grand ceremony," according to the state news agency. He did not give an exact date or mention Morsi by name.

An official result is expected Thursday.

He said the new president will have the authority to appoint and dismiss the government and that the military council has no intention of taking away any of the president's authorities.

But the military council issued an interim constitution just as polls were closing late Sunday night that gave the generals sweeping authority to maintain their grip on power and subordinate the nominal head of state.

Though official results have not yet been announced, the Muslim Brotherhood released a tally that showed its candidate, Morsi, took nearly 52 per cent of the vote to defeat Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq with about 48 per cent in a very close race. The count was based on results announced by election officials at individual polling centers, where each campaign has representatives who compile and release the numbers before the formal announcement.

CBC's Derek Stoffel reported from Cairo that Tahrir Square came to life early Monday, as hundreds of people weren’t waiting for official results from the run-off to accept the Muslim Brotherhood’s count that put Morsi on top.

"With this result, we have taken revenge of the protesters who have died in this square," said a young man named Mohamed, who said he spent several days in the square last year when the Arab Spring revolution began. But not everyone in the square was celebrating.

"This is a dirty game," said Sallah, a teacher who was incensed at the decision Sunday by Egypt’s ruling military council to grant itself broad new powers in an interim constitution. "They put our people in great turmoil."

The interim constitution declares the military rulers the country's lawmakers in lieu of the dissolved parliament, gives them control over the budget and the power to determine who writes the permanent constitution that will define the country's future.

'Stability, love and brotherhood' promised

If Morsi's victory is confirmed in the official result, it would be the first victory of an Islamist as head of state in the stunning wave of pro-democracy uprisings that swept the Middle East the past year. But the military's last minute power grab sharpens the possibility of confrontation and more of the turmoil that has beset Egypt since Mubarak's overthrow.

By midday, several hundred flag-waving supporters had gathered at Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising, to celebrate.

In a victory speech at his headquarters in the middle of the night, Morsi, 60, clearly sought to assuage the fears of many Egyptians that the Brotherhood will try to impose stricter provisions of Islamic law. He said he seeks "stability, love and brotherhood for the Egyptian civil, national, democratic, constitutional and modern state," and made no mention of Islamic law.

"Thank God, who successfully led us to this blessed revolution. Thank God, who guided the people of Egypt to this correct path, the road of freedom, democracy," the bearded, U.S.-educated engineer declared.

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An Egyptian supporter of Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi celebrates his apparent victory in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Monday. (Manu Brabo/Associated Press)

Just a few days before the presidential run-off on Saturday and Sunday, the military granted itself broad new powers to arrest civilians and a court packed with judges appointed by Mubarak dissolved the parliament freely elected after the uprising, which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The interim constitution, published in the official gazette late Sunday, defines the authorities of the next president and the authorities of the ruling military.

Key parts of interim constitution

Here are key elements of the declaration:

  • The next president takes his oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court because parliament is dissolved.
  • The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is the authority that decides on all affairs of the armed forces, appointing its commanders and extending their service. Until a new constitution is adopted, the chairman of the council (Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi) has the authorities of the commander of the armed forces and the defence minister.
  • The president can declare war after the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
  • In the case of domestic unrest that requires the intervention of the armed forces, the president can request the participation of the armed forces to safeguard security and protect the state's vital installations but only after the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
  • The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has legislative powers until a new parliament is elected and functioning.
  • If the constituent assembly is unable to complete its work for whatever reason, the Supreme Council of the Armed forces will within a week form a new constituent assembly — that represents all segments of society — to draft a new constitution within three months from the date of its inception. The draft constitution will be voted on in a nationwide referendum within 15 days of completion. Steps leading to parliamentary elections should start a month after the ratification of the new constitution in the referendum.
  • If the president, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed forces, the Supreme Judicial Council or a fifth of the members of the constituent assembly see that the draft constitution includes a clause that clashes with the basic principles and goals of the revolution or with previous Egyptian constitutions, any of those bodies can ask the assembly to review the clauses in question within 15 days. If the assembly sticks by its draft, any of those bodies can take the matter to the Supreme Constitutional Court, which should rule on the matter within seven days.

Whoever is declared the official presidential run-off election winner later this week, the interim constitution means "his power has been greatly diminished by Egypt's ruling military council," Stoffel reported.

Stoffel said it also "tightens their grip on Egypt," even though the military was supposed to hand over power to the new president.

"The charter gives the generals total control over Egypt's laws … its budget. It grants the military a veto if the president declares war."

Stoffel added that the Muslim Brotherhood says the military charter is "unlawful," and is now urging Egyptians to come out to "'protect the revolution,' perhaps setting the stage for more clashes between protesters and security forces."

With files from CBC News