Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood take part in a protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo
Egyptians packed Tahrir Square in Cairo through the night on Saturday, waving flags and chanting for the end of military rule as they waited to know the name of the first president they have been free to choose, reports Reuters.
After a week of drama, in which the Muslim Brotherhood's hopes of victory in the presidential election were soured by the army dissolving the Islamist-led parliament and decreeing tight limits on the new head of state's powers, there was anxiety on the streets, but also some hope a compromise could be found.
With the electoral commission still not promising to give a result of last weekend's presidential run-off before Sunday, senior figures on the ruling military council and among their old enemies in the Brotherhood told Reuters they had already held talks about future constitutional arrangements this week.
In Tahrir Square, where demonstrators faced down Hosni Mubarak's police state during last year's Arab Spring and forced him from power, thousands of mainly Islamist protesters have gathered in growing numbers for several days. They were determined to see the army that pushed Mubarak aside make good on its promise to hand over to civilian government by July.
"Say it without fear, the army must leave," they chanted among hundreds of fluttering flags carrying Egypt's red, white and black colours. "Down, down with military rule!"
The ruling military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), made clear, however, it was not about to accede to their demands, which include reversing the dissolution of parliament and cancelling a decree by which it took legislative power for itself until a new constitution is in place.
But both sides recall the bloodshed that ravaged another North African state, Algeria, when military rulers thwarted an Islamist movement's triumph at the ballot box in the 1990s, and appear willing to renew the tentative cooperation they built up after Mubarak's overthrow and step back from an outright clash.
An Islamist insurrection in Egypt in the 1990s also cost hundreds of lives, making the Brotherhood wary of violence.
Delay in the final tally of votes between Islamist Mohamed Morsy and former General Ahmed Shafik was due to many appeals being heard by the electoral commission, officials said. But it also gave more time for talks to defuse tensions.
"There has definitely been the process involved in tallying the official vote before announcing results," a senior state official familiar with the counting process told Reuters on Friday. "But there is also the politicking behind the scenes, with each side weighing up the strength of the other.
"The Brotherhood can draw millions of disciplined supporters onto the streets and the army has a mandate to ensure order."
Discussions between generals and Islamists, whose violent confrontation has marked Egypt for decades, were assuming a likelihood that Morsy will win narrowly, something electoral and army officials told Reuters seemed probable, but not certain.
"We have met with them to discuss how to get out of this crisis after parliament was dissolved and the new president's powers curbed," Khairat al-Shater, who runs the Brotherhood's finances and strategic planning, told Reuters - although he added they were some way from reaching any kind of agreement.
"The generals feel they are the proprietors of power and have not yet reached a level of real compromise," he said.
Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of SCAF, confirmed the recent meetings and repeated the army's commitment to a democratic transition. But he echoed a strong statement issued by SCAF on Friday that rejected the Brotherhood's demands.
"The constitutional decree is the exclusive authority of the military council," Shaheen told Reuters.
In a brusque, four-minute statement read on state television as Egyptians were completing their Friday prayers, the generals stood by what critics at home and in the West have called a "soft coup" intended to prolong six decades of military rule.
"The issuance of the supplementary constitutional decree was necessitated by the needs of administering the affairs of the state during this critical period in the history of our nation," the off-screen announcer said in stiff, bureaucratic language.