Egypt Islamists hope for victory
Cairo - Islamists who swept to victory in the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections were looking to consolidate their winning streak in a second round of voting on Wednesday.
At least 18.8 million Egyptians are eligible to cast their ballots in this round of the first legislative polls since a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule in February.
Polling stations are due to open at 08:00 (06:00 GMT), with voting taking place over two days and a run-off being held a week later.
Voters are required to cast three ballots: two for individual candidates and one for a party or coalition, in the assembly's 498 seats.
The election's first stage on November 28 saw Islamist parties crush their liberal rivals, mirroring a pattern established in Tunisia and Morocco following a string of popular uprisings across the region.
Parties affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi movements won 65% of all votes, trouncing liberal parties who managed 29.3%.
The second round will take place in Cairo's twin city of Giza; Beni Sueif south of the capital; the Nile Delta provinces of Menufiya, Sharqiya and Beheira; the canal cities of Ismailiya and Suez and the southern cities Sohag and Aswan.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said it won 32 out of 56 individual seats contested in the first phase of the multi-stage parliamentary polls, with four seats going to party allies.
In a separate party vote, which will see more than 100 seats distributed, the FJP won 36.6% while the hardline Islamic fundamentalist party Al-Nur came second with 24.4%.
The Muslim Brotherhood had been widely forecast to triumph as the country's most organised political group, well known after decades of charitable work and its endurance through repeated crackdowns by the Mubarak regime.
But the good showing from Salafist groups was a surprise, raising fears of a more conservative and overtly religious 498-member new parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been at pains to stress its commitment to multi-party democracy, inclusiveness and civil liberties, while also advocating the application of sharia law.
Nevertheless, the prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises fears among liberals about religious freedom in a country with the Middle East's largest Christian minority.
Much remains unclear about how the new parliament will function and whether it will be able to resolve a stand-off with the armed forces over how much power they will retain under a new constitution to be written next year.
After the voting for the lower house of parliament, which will end in January, Egyptians will then elect an upper house in a further three rounds of polls.