Cairo: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood predicted on Friday that its presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi will contest a run-off vote with former regime figure Ahmed Shafik, as counting in the country’s landmark election got under way.
Early results from nine of Egypt’s 27 provinces, reported by state-run Egyptian TV, give a mixed picture but suggest Morsi has the advantage.
He leads in five of the nine provinces, with Shafik, Amre Moussa, who previously served as foreign minister and headed the Arab League, Abdelmonen Abol Fotoh, a moderate Islamist running as an independent, and Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist dark-horse contender, splitting poll position in the others.
Results of the first round could come as soon as the end of Friday.
A statement on the official Facebook page of the Freedom and Justice party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, indicated that Morsi had received 30.8% of the votes cast to 22.3% for Shafik.
The Muslim Brotherhood said it had observed the counting of 51% of the vote.
If no candidate gets a majority of the vote in the first round, a second round will be held June 16-17. There were 13 candidates on the ballot, although two withdrew from the race after ballots were printed.
About half all Egypt’s roughly 50 million registered voters had cast ballots by the end of Thursday, the second and final day in the nation’s historic presidential election, said Farouk Sultan, head of the Higher Presidential Committee.
Amid worries by some that Egypt’s current military rulers might somehow hijack the election, Sultan detailed the vote counting process — including checks and balances aimed at insuring credibility.
According to the committee head, votes will be tallied in the various polling locales by a judge and in the presence of representatives of the candidates. Each final count will be announced aloud, then an official report will be filed that can be viewed by nonprofit groups, the media and candidates, said Sultan.
The provinces where Morsi leads are Aswan, Qina, Fayoum, Wadi Gadeed and Bani Swaif, according to Egyptian TV. Abol Fotoh leads in Damietta, Shafik in Dakahlia, Moussa in Southern Sinai and Sabahy in Red Sea province, the state-run channel reports.
Morsi is an American-educated engineer who vows to stand for democracy, women’s rights, and peaceful relations with Israel if he wins the Egyptian presidency. He’s also an Islamist figure who has argued for barring women from the Egyptian presidency and called Israeli leaders “vampires” and “killers.”
The Muslim Brotherhood had originally pledged not to seek the presidency.
Shafik, a former Air Force officer with close ties to Egypt’s powerful military, is seen as representing the interests of the old guard — those who lost out when former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Government employees were given a day off work to vote on who will be Egypt’s first president since Mubarak, who led the North African nation for 30 years before resigning amid a popular outcry.
He is awaiting the court’s verdict and could potentially face the death penalty after going on trial for corruption and allegedly ordering the killing of anti-government protesters.
The voting is a monumental achievement for those who worked to topple Mubarak in one of the seminal developments of the Arab Spring more than a year ago.
And it could reverberate far beyond the country’s borders, since Egypt is in many ways the center of gravity of the Arab world.
“Egypt has always set trends in the Arab world and for Arab political thought. Trends spread through the Arab world and eventually affect even non-Arab, Muslim-majority countries,” said Maajid Nawaz, the chairman of Quilliam, a London-based think tank.
Egypt’s election “bodes well for the rest of the Arab world and particularly those countries that have had uprisings,” said Nawaz, a former Islamist who was imprisoned in Egypt for four years for banned political activism.
Many protesters are upset at what they see as the slow pace of reform since Mubarak’s ouster. Some are also concerned that the country’s military leadership is delaying the transition to civilian rule.
Worries about the powerful military possibly swaying this week’s vote persist despite the insistence of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that it will hand over power to an elected civilian government.
The military leaders put armored personnel carriers on the streets with loudspeakers broadcasting a message that they will relinquish power, but that did not convince doubters.
Nawaz said Egypt probably is not heading toward a simple case of the military either giving up control or rejecting the results of the election.
Instead, he anticipated, there will be an “unhappy settlement” where the military remains “ever-present, in the shadows,” influencing the civilian government without controlling it.
In January, two Islamist parties — the Freedom and Justice Party with 235 seats and the conservative Al Nour party with 121 seats — won about 70% of the seats in the lower house of parliament in the first elections for an elected governing body in the post-Mubarak era. The rest of the assembly’s 498 seats were divided among other parties.