Egyptians wait for key presidential vote results

Vote counting was underway in Egypt Friday after two days of polling in a landmark presidential election which pitted stability against the ideals of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's rule.

The experience of waiting for a electoral result that has not been predetermined is a novel one for citizens of the Arab world's most populous nation, where years of presidential votes always produced the same winner.

This time around, 50 million eligible voters were given the chance to choose between 12 candidates in a race that has been largely free of the violence and fraud that often marred elections before the January-February 2011 revolt.

Just hours after polling stations closed at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) Thursday, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood -- using their formidable nationwide network to tally votes -- predicted a win for their candidate, Mohammed Mursi.

"I am confident that as first indications show, our candidate is leading," Essam al-Erian, vice chairman of the Islamist group's Freedom and Justice Party, told reporters, based on results from 236 out of 13,000 polling stations.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Egypt on its "historic" presidential election, and said Washington was ready to work with a new government in Cairo.

"We will continue to stand with the Egyptian people as they work to seize the promise of last year's uprising and build a democracy that reflects their values and traditions, respects universal human rights, and meets their aspirations for dignity and a better life," Clinton said in a statement.

Electoral commission officials said turnout was around 50 percent over the two days of voting on Wednesday and Thursday, with some voters queueing for hours to cast their ballot.

In schools and other institutions around the country, representatives from Egypt's electoral commission carefully sorted the ballots, each printed with the name, photograph and electoral symbol of the candidates, into neat piles.

Results from the polling stations across the country were expected to trickle out on Friday, but official tallies are not scheduled to be announced until May 27.

The vote pits Islamists and secular candidates who say they will champion the uprising's goals against Mubarak-era ministers, who tout their experience in government.

Among the contenders is former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who is seen as an experienced politician and diplomat, though critics have hammered his ties to the old regime.

Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, has also been shunned by some but praised by others for his law-and-order platform in a country where many .

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mursi, faces competition from Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrays himself as a consensus choice.

And also in the running is Hamdeen Sabbahi, a Nasserist politician who was initially considered a fringe candidate but gained surprise momentum late in the campaign.

The election seals a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed democratic parliamentary elections that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since Mubarak's ouster, has vowed to restore civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its withdrawal from politics will be just an illusion.

The army, with its vast and opaque economic power, wants to keep its budget a secret by remaining exempt from parliamentary scrutiny, maintain control of military-related legislation and secure immunity from prosecution.

Mubarak, 84 and ailing, is being held in a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo where he awaits the verdict of his murder trial on June 2.

The former strongman, ousted in a popular uprising last year, is accused of involvement in the killing of some 850 protesters during the uprising and of corruption.

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