Middle East

Egypt election: Bitter fight ahead for presidential rivals

Egyptians sit beneath campaign posters supporting the Muslim Brotherhood outside a polling centre in Alexandria, Egypt

Egyptians are beginning to get used to democracy. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, they have had a constitutional referendum, four rounds of voting in the parliamentary elections, and now the first round of the first free presidential election in the country's history.

That may explain the relatively modest turnout in the presidential vote - just 50% according to election officials.

However, Egypt's media have not yet developed the panoply of exit polls and results services that regularly produce almost instant results in some older democracies.

So it may take a little more time to get an accurate outcome from this week's vote.

Counting is going on at each of about 13,000 polling stations. There is no central, official running tally. State TV is broadcasting the results province by province, but that is fairly meaningless as it is the national tally that counts.

Image caption Mohammed Mursi (L) and Ahmed Shafiq could be involved in a bitter run-off

So the most detailed picture is coming from the campaign of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Mursi.

The Brotherhood, well organised as ever, have representatives in many of the counts. According to their running total, their candidate is in a clear lead, with between 25% and 27% of the vote. They believe he will face a run-off against the retired general, Ahmed Shafiq, who was President Mubarak's last prime minister.

Those figures seem to match some early results published by private newspapers, and also exit polls broadcast by satellite TV channels. Though they should still be treated with a degree of caution.

Hamdin Sabbahi, the candidate closest to the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, seems to have had a surprisingly strong showing, most likely finishing in third place.

That is something that matches anecdotal impression of many journalists in Cairo - though impressions can be misleading, as he is a candidate with strong support in the urban middle class.

The candidates who will be most disappointed are Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, in fourth place according to the Muslim Brotherhood tally, and Amr Moussa, whom the Brotherhood reckon has won only 11% of the vote.

That may explain his angry outburst on Thursday against his rival Ahmed Shafiq. Mr Moussa is believed to have suffered from what many consider a typically grumpy performance in one of the first television debates.

So Egypt looks to be heading towards a stark choice, a run-off election between the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate and President Mubarak's last prime minister. The election campaign could get a lot more bitter as the second round approaches, in the middle of June.