CAIRO – Egypt's media are demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood as the state's worst enemy, claiming the fundamentalist group plans to plunge the country into chaos if its candidate does not emerge as the winner from the presidential runoff.
Results of the weekend election were set to be announced Thursday, but officials postponed the declaration, setting off a wave of charges of manipulation aimed at all sides, including the ruling military.
The Brotherhood escalated its fight with the military, calling for a mass protest Friday to denounce what it called a power grab by the generals. Three major Islamist groups said Thursday they would join the protest in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak out of office last year.
Thousands of protesters, mostly Islamists, gathered in Tahrir Thursday for the third successive day.
Protesters demanded the reinstatement of the Islamist-dominated parliament dissolved by a court ruling last week. They also called on the military to rescind a "constitutional declaration" granting the generals sweeping powers and stripping the next president of much of his authority.
International condemnation of the generals who took over from Mubarak also intensified. Human Rights Watch complained that recent moves by the military suggested that there would not be a "meaningful" handover of power to civilian rule by July 1 as promised and created conditions "ripe" for more human rights abuses.
The statement echoed criticism by former President Jimmy Carter, a frequent visitor to Egypt who repeatedly met with its ruling generals, and Amnesty International.
The military has over the past week given itself the role of legislator, the right to arrest civilians and control over drafting a new constitution. It has also taken several steps to shield the military from civilian oversight.
The sense of political uncertainty engulfing the country following last weekend's presidential runoff is heightened by the failure of Egypt's election commission to announce a winner. Both candidates — Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood — have claimed victory.
"I have faith in the judges of Egypt, but too much delay will raise question marks," Saad el-Katatni, a senior Brotherhood leader and speaker of the dissolved legislature, told Al-Jazeera in an interview. "The result is already known and it is Mohammed Morsi."
Late Thursday, Shafiq repeated his claim of victory and charged that the Brotherhood was "playing games" and striking "backdoor deals" with outside powers to influence the results.
Shafiq denounced the Brotherhood's public appeals. "These protests in the squares and fear-mongering campaigns in the media are all aimed at putting pressure on the election commission," he said.
Several media outlets are vigorously campaigning against the Brotherhood in articles and interviews many suspect to be inspired by the generals, who have relied on a coterie of media celebrities and analysts of military background to defend their policies and vilify their critics.
The cover of this week's edition of the state weekly Al-Mussawar showed a picture of Morsi placing a kiss on the head of the group's spiritual leader, or Murshid, Mohammed Badie in a gesture of both reverence and submission.
"We will not be ruled by the Murshid," said the magazine in red print under the picture. Inside, eight prominent literary figures known for their liberal views said in interviews that a Brotherhood presidency could change Egypt forever.
"I consider the Brotherhood to be a threat to Egypt," said one of the eight, prize-winning novelist Gamal el-Ghetani. "We are living a moment that may be similar to (Adolf) Hitler's rise to power."
The independent el-Destour daily splashed on its front page an unsourced story claiming that the Brotherhood planned a bloodbath if Morsi was not declared the winner.
In the weekly el-Fagr, known to be close to the military, editor-in-chief Adel Hamouda warned that the Brotherhood planned to create an "Islamic emirate" in Egypt.
He said the Brotherhood's announcement that Morsi won several hours after the polls closed last Sunday amounted to "political thuggery" and that calling on its supporters to gather in Tahrir was a prelude to violence.
In the ancient city of Luxor, more policemen and troops were visible on the streets on Thursday and gold shops, mostly owned by minority Christians and often targeted by looters at times of turmoil, were shuttered in anticipation of trouble.
The Brotherhood has said repeatedly it will not resort to violence if Shafiq wins, but it maintains that Mubarak's longtime friend and admirer could win only through fraud.
Mahmoud Ghozaln, the Brotherhood's spokesman, said the group was prepared to talk with the military to defuse the crisis. "That the election commission has not yet announced the result is a sort of pressure on us," he said.
By the group's count, Morsi took 52 percent of the vote, to Shafiq's 48 percent. The claim is based on the group's own compilation of election officials' returns from nearly all polling centers nationwide. The Brotherhood's early, partial counts proved generally accurate in last month's first round of the presidential election.