CAIRO—Egypt's Islamist and liberal forces, wary about the results of the weekend's presidential election, cast aside their ideological differences to protest the ruling military's moves to extend its grip on power.
As protest numbers swelled into the tens of thousands Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday, the elections commission said it was evaluating hundreds of complaints in the runoff contest between the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, both of whom each claimed victory. Official results are expected to be announced on Thursday.
The united effort in Tahrir Square offered the first indication that liberal-minded political groups are willing to rally behind the powerful Muslim Brotherhood to check the military leadership's widening hold on Egypt's emerging political system.
"We learned a very hard lesson this week that the military believes we are divided and will allow them to exert their will on us," said Shadi Abdel Rahim, 35 years old. "I don't love Morsi and I don't love Shafiq, but I love democracy and that's why I'm here."
In the past two weeks, the interim ruling military leadership has restored martial law, dismissed Parliament, cut down the proscribed powers of the incoming president and seized authority over the drafting of the country's next constitution.
The turnout on Tuesday marked a step toward repudiating what some analysts say is the military leadership's divide-and-conquer strategy. Egypt's liberal-minded activists, who form the core of the protest movement, and the Islamists, who have won huge successes at the ballot box have spent much of the past year at odds.
"No Salafi, no liberal, no Brotherhood, today it's only Egyptian," sang one large group of protesters in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak last year and left the military in charge of a political transition.
On Tuesday, doctors were considering transfering the deposed president to a military hospital from a prison outside Cairo, where the 84-year-old suffered a stroke, according to official state news media reports. Mr. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison this month on charges of complicity to murder.
A shift in mood was palpable in Tahrir Square on Tuesday. When Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament two weeks ago, the outrage was barely felt. Many activists accused the military of orchestrating a soft coup, but the few calls for mass protest were largely ignored.
Some liberal-minded politicians, including those who have been critical of military rule, publicly praised the court's decision to dissolve the Islamist-dominated assembly that many of them saw as a prelude to an Islamist putsch.
But on Tuesday evening, protesters projected a unified message.
On a hastily built stage on the western edge of Tahrir Square, speakers from the secular-minded April 6th Youth Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood took turns addressing the crowd.
When one speaker attempted to lead the gathered crowd in a chant of "Morsi" he was cut off by another person on the stage and, chastened, changed it to a slogan against military rule.
The scene was echoed in the crowd. As two men argued over whether the demonstration was in support of Mr. Morsi, a stranger quickly interjected, saying "It's one hand in the square," a slogan drawn from the uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak.
Reports that the Muslim Brotherhood would convene Parliament Tuesday in defiance of a court ruling never materialized. Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the group, said it never planned to do so.
Meanwhile, Egypt's political future hung in the balance as rival campaigns claimed victory and reports of fraud and irregularities piled up.
The Muslim Brotherhood, holding a news conference on Tuesday morning repeated its report that Mr. Morsi had won 52% of the vote to Mr. Shafiq's 48%. The Brotherhood presented reams of paperwork attesting to their candidate's victory, including a nationwide breakdown of voting totals by polling station.
In another news conference across town, campaigners for Mr. Shafiq retorted that their candidate was in the lead with 51.5%.
In a sign of legal battles to come, a Shafiq campaign manager said Mr. Shafiq and his supporters are "prepared to go to the furthest point possible to prove that Shafiq is Egypt's next president."
When Egyptian journalists pressed Mr. Shafiq's media representatives for hard numbers, the campaign workers demurred, insisting that Thursday's official results announcement would vindicate their claims.
The Shafiq campaign accused the Muslim Brotherhood of announcing Mr. Morsi's victory before all the ballots could be counted. Campaigners said reports of fraudulent voting would invalidate enough ballots to launch Mr. Shafiq into first place. Campaign operatives said thousands of ballots were printed with tick marks next to Mr. Morsi's name.
Mr. Morsi's campaign staff and the High Presidential Election Commission also reported the printing error, but said the ballots were discovered and destroyed before voting began.
The election commission, which is stocked with judges appointed by Mr. Mubarak, is set to rule on 220 reports from the Shafiq camp and 140 from the Morsi camp.
International campaign observers, including the Atlanta-based Carter Center, complained that the Egyptian government offered limited access to their observers. But monitors noted only a few isolated cases of administrative errors, and none of the organizations declared the vote invalid.