Egypt again delayed the release of full election results expected to show Islamist candidates sweeping to victory.
At a press conference by the election commission chief Abdel Moez Ibrahim, already pushed back by two days, he began announcing figures before abruptly leaving the room saying he had “no more energy” and had “run out of gas.”
His incomplete announcement of results in some constituencies made it difficult to discern the overall trend, but he did reveal that turnout had been a record “since the Pharoahs” at 62 percent.
His prepared opening statement said Egypt had “passed from an era of dictatorship to a democratic era” — a reference to the abuses of the regime of Hosni Mubarak who was overthrown in a January-February uprising.
More than eight million Egyptians embraced their new democratic freedoms this week in Cairo and second-city Alexandria in the first election since the toppling of the 30-year rule of president Mubarak.
The results are expected to show the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist movement banned for decades, as the dominant force, but with a strong showing by hardline Salafi candidates.
Forecasts in the local media and from the parties themselves put the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) at around 40 percent, the Salafis at about 20 percent and a secular liberal alliance trailing in third place.
There was no immediate announcement of when full results would be revealed, but Ibrahim said they would be posted on the Internet.
The figures are from only the opening part of a parliamentary election taking place in three stages, but they will reveal the political trends shaping the country’s transition to democracy.
The military rulers who took control after the overthrow of Mubarak have adopted a highly complicated system for the election which has been criticised by many observers.
Voters were required to pass three votes on Monday and Tuesday: two for individual candidates — split between workers and professionals — and one for a party.
Ibrahim gave results for the individual contests, with all but four of them going into a run-off next Monday because no candidate gained an outright majority.
Only a third of constituencies voted this week to elect a new lower house of parliament. The rest of the country will follow on December 14 and then on January 3.
The prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises fears among liberals about civil liberties, religious freedom in a country with the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, and tolerance of multi-party democracy.
“My father is seriously thinking about sending me and my brothers elsewhere because he thinks we won’t have a future in the country with the Salafis,” Nardine, a Christian banker in her 20s, told AFP.
Leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, set to be the main party in parliament, have repeatedly stressed their commitment to multi-party democracy and inclusiveness, and have pledged to ensure freedoms.
The Brotherhood’s FJP says it strives for a “civil state, defined as a non-military non-religious state… that respects human rights” according to its political programme.
The group has been officially banned since the 1950s, but it counts hundreds of thousands of members and is known for its vast network of social and religious outreach programmes, as well as its stand against corruption.
Two demonstrations were also called on Friday — one against the army leaders overseeing the country’s promised transition to democracy and another to support the regime — but turnout was low by recent standards.
The Brotherhood and other political parties are expected to face a fierce power struggle with the army to ensure the complete transfer of power to the new civilian leaders.
The FJP has already said it expects to be asked to form a new government to replace a new military-appointed administration set to be announced on Saturday.
The army leaders last week named a new caretaker prime minister, 78-year-old Mubarak-era politician Kamal al-Ganzuri.
The appointment came after 43 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured in violent protests against the interim military regime which is accused of looking to consolidate its huge political and economic power.
Analysts say Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation and its cultural heart, faces a long, highly complex and uncertain transition to democracy amid growing growing concerns about the economy.