CAIRO - Amid high tension, a delay of the results of Egypt's presidential election over fraud allegations has frayed nerves of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and most Egyptians.
"There is absolutely no justification for the result of the vote to be delayed," Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian told the Doha-based Al-Jazeera television.
Results of the weekend's runoff vote between Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Mursi and former premier Ahmed Shafiq was due to be announced on Thursday, July 21.
But the election commission delayed the vote results over complaints of fraud.
"We are taking our time to review the appeals to investigate them properly but, God willing, the results will be announced by Sunday at most, if not before that," Judge Maher el-Beheiry, a member of the election committee, told Reuters.
The Muslim Brotherhood has declared its candidate Mursi a winner within hours of polls closing last Sunday.
The Brotherhood said Mursi beat Shafiq by 52 percent to 48 percent, a figure the group has stuck to, citing its detailed collation of local results.
But the result was challenged by Shafiq, who complained of fraud during the voting process.
Erian, the Brotherhood leader, described complaints from the Shafiq camp as either invalid or too few to affect the result.
"I call on General Shafiq, who learned chivalry in the Egyptian army, to come out tonight and congratulate the real winner, Dr. Mohamed Morsi," Erian said.
Shafiq's camp on Wednesday said it remained confident that its candidate, whom deposed president Hosni Mubarak appointed prime minister during a popular uprising last year, would win, although a spokesman for Shafiq also described the vote as "too close to call".
The spokesman accused the Brotherhood of divisive tactics by trying to pre-empt the state election committee, but pledged to honor any result.
"In the event that candidate Morsi is indeed successful," he said, "the first telephone call that he will receive will be from candidate Shafiq."
If defeated, Shafiq would be willing to serve in a Brotherhood government or other post, he said, and if victorious, the former air force commander would appoint an Islamist as one of three vice presidents as well as offer ministerial posts to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The delay promoted the Brotherhood to declare permanent town square vigils until the results are announced.
But the Brotherhood leader dismissed talk of violence over any change in the vote results.
"There is absolutely no reason for a civil war," he said.
The vote results delay has fuelled suspicion of foul play.
"Any attempt to impose Shafiq, any attempt at manipulation by the military council to impose him on us, will take Egypt into a period of instability and tension," Ahmed Maher of the April 6 youth protest movement told Reuters.
"We will take to the streets and protest."
Whoever is declared winner, the next president's powers have already been curbed in a last-minute decree issued by the ruling military council after it ordered the dissolution of the Islamist-led parliament.
The European Union on Wednesday joined the United States, both major aid donors, in expressing "concern" at what the army moves meant for a promised transition to democracy.
But with the Egyptian army still, as it was throughout Mubarak's 30 years in power, Western pressure on Cairo's generals may be limited.
On Tuesday, election monitors from the Carter Center, founded by former US President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the peace between Egypt and Israel that unlocked US aid, said they could not call the election free and fair as they were denied sufficient access to polling stations and results collation.
Brotherhood supporters and others staged a protest on Tuesday against the army's decree to limit the president's role and retain powers.
Brotherhood official Osama Yassin said on Wednesday he was calling on supporters to set up open-ended vigils in town squares across the nation to make their demands.
"We reject the overturning of the popular will," he said.
But Saad al-Katatni, speaker of the dissolved parliament, said the Brotherhood would not fight back with violence the way Algerian Islamists did after the army there cancelled a vote they had won in 1992, touching off a decade of bloody civil war.
"We are fighting a legal struggle via the establishment and a popular struggle in the streets," Katatni said.
"This is the ceiling. I see the continuation of the struggle in this way," he told Reuters in the first interview since the parliament dissolution."What happened in Algeria cannot be repeated in Egypt."