Egypt on Monday released its official first-round presidential election results, confirming expectations next month's run-off will pit a former regime stalwart against a contender from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The committee confirmed that the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi and ex-air force chief Ahmed Shafiq had proceeded to the second round of Egypt's first genuinely contested presidential vote in six decades.
Mursi topped the poll with 24.3 percent of the votes, followed by Shafiq with 23.3 percent. Turnout was 46 percent.
"Organization matters," said Samuel Tadros, an Egypt expert at Washington's Hudson Institute, told The Jerusalem Post. "The Muslim Brotherhood machine is unparalleled, but Shafiq has built an impressive organization of dedicated young men."
Tadros said it remains too early to predict results for the June 16-17 run-off. "Do Salafis mobilize? Do non-Islamists rally around Shafiq due to fear of complete Muslim Brotherhood domination? Does the Brotherhood attempt, as it seems it is, to turn this into Islam versus Christians and seculars?" he said. "We will see in the coming days."
Given Egypt's current political and economic instability, Tadros said, Shafiq's reputation as a "remnant" of the ousted Hosni Mubarak regime could prove more an asset than a liability. "If he is portrayed as candidate against Islam, he loses, but being portrayed as old regime does not hurt – it helps."
About half of first-round votes went to neither of the two frontrunners: leftist firebrand Hamdeen Sabahy took third place with 20.4 percent, independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh earned 17.2% and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa came in fifth with 10.9%.
All three filed complaints about the voting, but all were rejected by the six judges forming the electoral committee.
The disputes add rancor to an already messy and often bloody transition to democracy since generals took over from Mubarak when a popular uprising forced out the longtime president last February.
"I reject these results and do not recognize them," said Abol Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member, alleging that votes had been bought and representatives of candidates had been denied access to polling stations during the count.
"The national conscience does not allow for labeling these elections honest," he said. Of the 12 candidates, only Abol Fotouh has so far rejected the result outright.
"There are question marks on the result of the election," Moussa told a separate news conference earlier. "There were violations, but this should not change our minds on democracy and the necessity of choosing our president."
The Brotherhood sought to muster a coalition to help Mursi against Shafiq, who calls Mubarak his "role model."
Neither man came close to winning the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to clinch the presidency in the first round.
The close contest has set both contenders scrambling for support, particularly the Brotherhood, which is trying to draw losing candidates and other political forces into a broad front to prevent a "counter-revolutionary" Shafiq victory.
Shafiq is also seeking wider backing, even posing as a protector of the revolt that toppled Mubarak.
Shafiq's supporters see him as the man to impose security and crack down on protests viewed as damaging to the economy. Mursi appeals to Egyptians keen for Islamists to run a deeply religious country within a democratic framework.
"I would bet that at some stage in the next two weeks there will be an upsurge in violence," said a Western diplomat, predicting than such a flare-up would likely boost the chances of Shafiq, campaigning on a law and order platform.
The military council has promised to lift a hated state of emergency in force throughout Mubarak's 30-year rule on May 31. It has also pledged to hand over to the new president by July 1.
A Brotherhood source, who asked not to be named, said the Islamist group's Freedom and Justice Party had prepared a menu of options to tempt rival groups and politicians to its side.
These include creating a five-member advisory council to advise the president; assigning the posts of prime minister or vice-president to Abol Fotouh and Sabahy; distributing cabinet posts to other parties and offering compromises on planned laws and on an assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.
So far Abol Fotouh and Sabahy have appeared wary of such overtures, staying away from meetings called by the Brotherhood to discuss strategy for the second round of an election supposed to crown Egypt's turbulent army-led transition to democracy.
Moussa, a former foreign minister once seen as favorite to win the presidency, but who appears to have managed only fifth place, said he would stay in politics but was seeking no post.
"We cannot accept a re-creation of the (Mubarak) regime," he declared, but said he had not yet spoken with the Brotherhood on any anti-Shafiq coalition. "I am not going to consult them, but if they want to consult me, I will consider it."