CAIRO — Egypt's two most polarizing presidential candidates appeared headed for a runoff election next month that will decide whether the nation will be ruled by an ascendant political Islam or return to the secularist spirit that defined Hosni Mubarak's toppled police state.
Official results in Egypt's first free presidential election are expected to be released in coming days. But independent vote counts Friday indicated that Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi will battle Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve Mubarak, in a June contest certain to enthrall the entire Middle East.
The stark matchup makes clear that despite a year of upheaval, the pillars of the past remain strong — and they are colliding over the future of the country. Morsi represents the Islamist ideals of the Brotherhood, which for decades was the most potent opposition to the old regime. Shafiq is the unabashed embodiment of the Mubarak era, a former fighter pilot who bragged during the campaign of shooting down Israeli warplanes in the 1973 war.
Egyptian media reported that Morsi led the first round of voting with 25.3 percent of the vote, followed by Shafiq with 24.9 percent. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, a runoff is set for June 16-17 between the two top finishers. There were 13 candidates.
Voter turnout was considered low at between 40 percent and 50 percent.
The voting on Wednesday and Thursday result was a setback for the young activists, largely liberal and secular, who ignited last year's uprising.
"The results are depressing," said Tarek Khouli, head of the April 6th democratic front, which has helped lead antigovernment protests. "Many revolutionaries are thinking of boycotting the runoff. … We don't accept either man as our president."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.