Ballot counting has begun in Egypt after two days of historic voting to choose the country’s first democratically elected president, with the Muslim Brotherhood claiming lead.
The Brotherhood, the country’s most powerful political force, said on Friday that their candidate, Mohamed Morsi, will face divisive former civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq in a presidential run-off.
Morsi, from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, is one of thirteen men vying to become president.
But the results will not be clear for some time, as major governorates had yet to submit their counts and independent media results showed a former socialist parliamentarian and activist jostling Shafiq for second place.
The presidential election commission did not plan to release official results until Tuesday. The Brotherhood said its prediction of a Morsi-Shafiq runoff was released after 90 per cent of the votes were counted nationwide.
Campaigns were allowed to station observers in the polls throughout the voting and counting process, and the influential Islamist group had placed staff in nearly each one.
The presidential elections come months after parliamentary polls, which the Brotherhood won handsomely, earning around 47 per cent of parliament. The hard-line 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.
The rise of Shafiq – the former civil aviation minister who served as Mubarak’s prime minister in the final days of the disintegrating regime – boosted by a sympathetic and powerful state media machine, was not widely predicted.
And though he appears to have attracted many voters who yearn for a return to security and normalcy in Egypt, he is perhaps the race’s most divisive candidate, loathed by the revolution’s passionate supporters.
In what may be a sign of things to come should Shafiq reach the run-off, a mob chased him from his polling place and pelted him with shoes on Wednesday.
Other surprises on election night included what appeared to be a less-than-impressive showing from presumed front-runner Amr Moussa, who ranked highest in many opinion polls before the election, and a surge by Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-wing activist from the rural Nile Delta who served two terms in parliament and had been imprisoned 17 times under previous presidents.
Omar Ashour from Exeter University told Al Jazeera that the “revolutionary vote was divided”.
“Amr Moussa is doing badly because of a few things – for example the debate with Aboul Fotouh, where they both under-minded each other to the detriment of them both,” Ashour said.
“Morsi was underestimated – the Muslim Brotherhood is very well organised and very good at mobilising votes,” he added.
Meanwhile, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former high-ranking Muslim Brother who quit the organisation after the revolution, remained in third place in most results, a disappointing showing in the view of some analysts.
Polling places in and around Cairo visited by Al Jazeera reported different numbers, with 36 per cent of registered voters participating in some polling centres in the Nazlat el-Semman neighbourhood of Giza, while 66 per cent came out at a school in the Moqattam neighbourhood of Cairo.
“This is the first time we will choose our president in 7,000 years,” said Mustafa Mahmoud Mustafa at the Moqattam Basic Education School.
Judges and prosecutors serving as election authorities oversaw what appeared to be an orderly and calm process, and reports of violations were few and relatively minor.
In Nazlat el-Semman, 50-year-old Sayyid el-Maymouny, who owns a shop on the edge of the Giza plateau and sells tourist trinkets within site of the Pyramids, said he was supporting Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief and Mubarak-era foreign minister.
He scorned Ahmed Shafiq, saying he was the true “felool,” or regime remnant, not Moussa.
“For a year and a half, politicians have been causing us trouble, and we feel if Ahmed Shafiq wins, it will not go well,” Maymouny said. “I used to stand in Tahrir, I used to go to the square during the revolution.”
The powers of Egypt’s next president are still unclear, since the current constitution – the result of a drafting process led by the ruling military council – is meant to be temporary.
In the Nile Delta, voter turnout was relatively low on Thursday, despite it being declared a holiday for government workers.
As Hana Badr left a voting station in the working class town of Tanta, she said she did not care who won as long as “it’s a decent man who’ll focus on the youth”.
“I have children with university degrees who can’t find jobs. It’s not just Tanta, it’s the whole of Egypt,” she said.
With unemployment as high as 25 per cent among the youth in much of Egypt, voters across the Delta shared the sentiment.
In the city of Mahalla, home to Egypt’s textile industry, 18-year-old Mohamed Khairy told Al Jazeera that the youth were being poorly educated adding that “it doesn’t allow for critical thinking”.
An older man said: “I’m voting Amr Moussa or Ahmed Shafiq!”
He admitted that the two candidates whom he supported most were part of the old regime, but said they would be jailed if they “messed” with the country.
“The people are too powerful,” he said.