Egyptians voted again on Wednesday in the final round of a phased election to choose the first parliament since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
Islamist parties scored a crushing victory in the first two phases of the polls, which began on November 28, mirroring a pattern in the region since Arab Spring uprisings overthrew authoritarian secular regimes.
The third and final two-day round of the elections got off to a sluggish start in nine provinces on Tuesday, with only small queues forming outside polling stations throughout the day.
Polls began closing at around 1700 GMT on Wednesday, with Islamists expected to repeat their success of the first two rounds. Run-offs for the individual candidates are scheduled for January 10.
Voters are required to cast three ballots — two for individual candidates and one for a party or coalition — for the 498 elected seats in the lower house of parliament.
The ruling military council which took power when Mubarak was ousted will nominate a further 10 MPs.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s best organised political movement, has claimed the lead through its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
But the surge of Al-Nur, which represents the ultra-conservative Salafi brand of Islam, has raised fears among increasingly marginalised liberals about civil liberties and religious freedom.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has repeatedly pointed to the elections as proof of its intention to hand the reins to a civilian government.
But the vote has exposed a deepening rift among Egyptians. Some see them as the first step to democratic rule, while others say the new parliament — whose function remains unclear — leaves control in the hands of the military.