Egypt awaits poll results
Cairo - Egypt awaited results on Wednesday from its peaceful and largely orderly first post-revolution elections which are expected to show moderate Islamists dominating the country's new political landscape.
As in Tunisia, the first country to hold elections after toppling its leader in the Arab Spring, a moderate Islamist party is set to emerge as the biggest in the new parliament, ahead of its secular rivals, analysts say.
On Monday and Tuesday, millions of Egyptians embraced their new democratic freedoms, filing into polling stations in the capital Cairo and second-city Alexandria for the first phase of multi-stage parliamentary elections.
The results to be published on Wednesday only cover those areas that voted earlier this week - a third of constituencies - but they will show the trends likely to shape a country that has not had a free election in 60 years.
The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper and the independent daily Al-Shorouk both gave the lead to the Freedom and Justice Party, formed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, according to preliminary figures.
The Muslim Brotherhood was banned during the time of veteran president Hosni Mubarak, overthrown in February by a popular uprising, but its opposition earned it respect and crucial recognition among many Egyptians.
Many of the new political parties which have emerged in the post-Mubarak era are unknown to voters and the secular pro-democracy movement that helped overthrow the dictator is divided and disorganised.
High vote turn-out
In Tahrir Square, nerve centre of the anti-Mubarak uprising and the pro-democracy movement, clashes between protesters and street vendors overnight left 79 people injured.
"I expect the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party will do better than any other single party," forecast author and Egypt expert Bruce Rutherford, a professor at the US-based Colgate University.
"But I don’t expect it will be the dominant force that some fear."
The vote on Monday and Tuesday in Cairo and Alexandria and other areas was the first of three stages of an election for a new lower house of parliament. The rest of the country follows next month and in January.
After each round there will be a run-off vote, and then a further six rounds of voting for the upper house of parliament from January.
Both the schedule and the voting system are fiendishly complex, meaning a clear interpretation of Wednesday's results might take some time to emerge once figures are given late in the day.
Voters were asked to cast three ballots in the election: two for individual candidates and another for a party or coalition.
The results will be final for the individual candidates - who will go into a run-off vote next week unless someone wins a majority outright - and preliminary figures for the party lists.
Turnout for the vote was high, with long queues forming before polling stations opened on Monday morning. A member of the interim military leadership has forecast 70% of voters exercised their right.
Calm and orderly
The military rulers known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) expressed their "happiness" on Tuesday, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent his congratulations for the "generally calm and orderly" conduct of the poll.
The backdrop to the vote had been ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the SCAF leaders who stepped in at the end of Mubarak's rule. Forty-two people were killed and more than 3 000 injured.
Analysts warn that the country faces huge challenges ahead in its long, complicated and uncertain transition to democracy that is scheduled to finish only in June next year under the current timetable.
Once two houses of parliament are elected by March after six rounds of voting across the country, a new constitution must be drawn up and a president elected.
There are also concerns about whether the new army leaders are prepared to hand over their powers to a civilian government.
Egypt, with a fast-growing population of more than 80 million, is a former British protectorate ruled by military leaders for most of its history since independence in 1922.