Ballot counting is nearing an end in Egypt after two days of historic voting to choose the country's first democratically elected president, with the Muslim Brotherhood and a former Mubarak-era official likely to face one another in a runoff.
According to political campaigns and unofficial vote counts released by local media, the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq placed first and second, respectively, setting up a direct contest for the presidency on June 16 and 17.
Official results are not expected until Tuesday, when the presidential election commission has promised to release the final tallies. But the Muslim Brotherhood, which had stationed observers in nearly each of 13,000 polling stations throughout the country, echoed news media tallies and declared the vote headed for a runoff between Morsi and Shafiq.
Though a notable victory for the Brotherhood, and one that reinforces the movement's reputation for effective political campaigning, the prospect of a Morsi-Shafiq runoff represents a worst-case scenario for many pro-revolution Egyptians who must now choose between a conservative religious organisation and a man they view as an extension of the fallen Hosni Mubarak regime.
Hamdeen Sabahi, a former parliamentarian from the Nile Delta popular with many pro-revolution Egyptians who had been imprisoned 17 times under previous presidents, appeared to have fallen short of a place in the runoff vote by several hundred thousand votes.
"If [Sabahi] doesn't win, it means the revolution didn't succeed, and it wasn't worth the martyrs dying for others to live," said 29-year-old Salim Suleiman, an amateur actor and Sabahi campaign volunteer.
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The scene outside Sabahi's headquarters in Cairo's Mohandiseen district was at once fiery and despondent, with groups of supporters chanting against Shafiq and the country's ruling military council while others sobbed and slammed their hands on parked cars in anger.
"It's bad for me, as a youth, to see the revolution dying. Most Egyptians disappointed me," Suleiman said.
Dalia Gelaa, a 24-year-old architectural engineer, said she found Shafiq's victory hard to believe.
"It's a disaster, really," she said. "There will be a next revolution soon."
But in the nearby Dokki district, in a walled villa that serves as Shafiq's headquarters, the mood was calm and confident. Campaign workers walked about, and journalists were allowed to roam freely, though interviews were forbidden after a Shafiq spokesman reportedly told the New York Times that the revolution had ended, a comment he later denied.
Ahmed Radwan, a Shafiq volunteer, said the Islamists were only concerned with their interests, while the others were politicians who did not achieve anything.
"Shafiq is the only man who built something in this country," Radwan said, referring to Shafiq's tenure as civil aviation minister, when he oversaw the building of Cairo's airport.
Call for unity
The election marks a crucial step in a messy and often bloody transition to democracy, overseen by the country's ruling military council that has pledged to hand power to a new president by July 1.
Later on Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood called on losing presidential candidates and political groups to take part in a dialogue aimed at "salvaging the nation'' ahead of the runoff.
Brotherhood official Essam el-Erian told a press conference that Morsi was calling on other presidential candidates, national personalities and groups that supported last year's uprising that toppled Mubarak to consult on how to "save the nation and the revolution".
The call appeared to be an attempt by the Brotherhood to broaden its support ahead of what is expected to be a difficult runoff against Shafiq.
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Erian warned that the nation would be "in danger" if Shafiq won the presidency.
"We will be united behind an initiative to unite the country and reach the revolution's objectives. Today, we must bring the country into unity in order to save the revolution and the blood that has been sacrificed," said Erian.
The presidential elections come months after parliamentary polls, which the Brotherhood's political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, won easily, taking around 47 per cent of parliamentary seats. The hardline Salafi Nour Party won 25 per cent.
The new president's powers were meant to be outlined by the election in a new constitution drafted by a special assembly, but opposition parties boycotted the assembly when the Brotherhood was perceived to be using its near parliamentary majority to stack the deck in its favour.
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The rise of Shafiq, boosted by a sympathetic and powerful state media machine, was not widely predicted.
He appeared to have attracted many voters seeking a return to security and normality in Egypt. Even so, he is perhaps the race's most divisive candidate, loathed by many of the revolution's passionate supporters.
But more turbulence could follow if Shafiq is elected and his foes have already vowed to take to the streets if that happens. On Wednesday a mob chased him from his polling place and pelted him with shoes.
Other surprises on election night included what appeared to be a less-than-impressive showing from presumed frontrunner Amr Moussa, who ranked highest in many opinion polls before the election.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies