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Muslim Brotherhood in lead as Egypt vote count begins

With an inked finger as evidence of voting, an Egyptian woman beams Thursday during the second day of presidential elections inside a polling station in the Mataraya neighborhood of Cairo.

Associated Press

With an inked finger as evidence of voting, an Egyptian woman beams Thursday during the second day of presidential elections inside a polling station in the Mataraya neighborhood of Cairo.

CAIRO — As the second day of a historic vote came to a close Thursday, the leading presidential campaigns said it appeared that the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood had won a spot in a runoff after a day of high anxiety as voters awaited the results of Egypt's first competitive presidential election.

Shortly after the polls closed and the process of hand-counting paper ballots began, the Muslim Brotherhood and two other campaigns said Mohammed Morsi, a conservative if low-key Islamist, had cleared the first hurdle. But it was unclear whom he would face in the next round, setting the stage for one of two likely situations: a contest with a more liberal Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, or a former general and prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

Throughout the day, candidates traded charges of fraud and tossed out early projections intended as much as anything to fire up supporters on the second and final day of the vote. From early on, most predictions focused on the possibility that one or both of the two most polarizing candidates might advance to the June runoff: Morsi and Shafiq.

Nervous rivals pointed to their ties to Egypt's two most powerful institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood is the secretive and hierarchal Islamist group that was the main opposition under the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, and now dominates Parliament. The military, where Shafiq made his reputation, has been a pillar of the Egyptian government and the source of every president since the 1952 coup, and the generals seized power again at Mubarak's ouster last year.

If that is the face-off that emerges, it threatens to widen the rift between Egypt's Muslim majority and its Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the population and has rallied around Shafiq in a coordinated effort to vote as a bloc, voters and Christian leaders said.

The Christian community's fears of the Islamists appear to have outweighed the residual anger at a massacre of Christian demonstrators by soldiers last year.

Muslim Brotherhood in lead as Egypt vote count begins 05/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 12:05am]

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