The fight for Egypt's future looks likely to boil down to a showdown between the Muslim Brotherhood and a former fighter pilot with ties to the old regime, as the last votes were tallied in a presidential election that one leading activist said would lead to a “second revolution”.
With most of the counts completed, local newspapers reported that Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi – a bland, second-choice candidate derided by many critics as a "spare wheel" – had emerged as the victor with around a quarter of the vote.
It makes him a certainty to continue into the second round run-off on June 16 – a vote which could enable the once-banned Brotherhood to achieve its decades-old dream of total political control in Egypt.
A successful campaign for Mr Morsi was never in doubt. Despite his reputation as a monochrome party mandarin, the Brotherhood's financial and organisational clout guaranteed him a strong chance of making the final cut.
But the late charge by Ahmed Shafik – a former air force chief widely assumed to have the blessing of the ruling Military Council – came as a shock to many. Mr Shafik was appointed Prime Minister in the dying days of Hosni Mubarak's regime. He was later forced to resign under popular pressure, but during his run for the presidency managed to cultivate an image as a tough man who can fix Egypt's social problems and provide a bulwark against the rise of political Islam.
Mr Shafik holds particular sway among Egypt's minority Christian community, many of whom believe that the Muslim Brotherhood – which already controls nearly half of the seats on parliament – is intent on moulding Egypt into a hardline Islamic state.
"Our program is about the future. The Muslim Brotherhood is about an Islamic empire," said Ahmed Shafik's spokesman yesterday.
According to preliminary results published in the Egyptian press, Mr Shafik had taken around 23 per cent of the vote – just ahead of the left-wing candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who reportedly polled around 20 per cent.
But his success has appalled political opponents and activists, many of whom believe Mr Shafik represents a brand of Mubarak-era despotism which protesters in Tahrir Square believed they could destroy.
A senior member of one of Egypt's main activist organisations warned the result could lead to further bloodshed, telling The Independent that a run-off between Mr Morsi and Mr Shafik might trigger a "second revolution".Reuse content