CAIRO - Egypt started counting votes late Thursday, May 24, after a two-day election to choose a new president to replace autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular revolt last year.
Counting started after polls closed at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) with no reliable exit polls available, Reuters reported.
The Muslim Brotherhood said on its television channel that its candidate Mohamed Mursi was ahead based on the tally from some districts.Islamists, Liberals Vie for Egypt Presidency (Special Page)
The influential Islamist group, with its well-organized support base, had been expected to do well.
Other candidates claimed to be ahead in a handful of areas, but the overall picture will not be clear for some time.
Farouk Sultan, head of the Higher Presidential Committee, said about half all Egypt's registered voters had cast ballots through the second and final day of election.
Egyptians queued earlier Thursday to cast ballot in the last day of the country's historic election.
"This is the first time we can really choose our president and no one will mess with the result," said Ahmed Shaltout, a 36-year-old lawyer who said he would vote for Mursi.
Thirteen candidates are vying in the vote, including Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Mursi, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh and former premier Ahmed Shafiq.
If no one wins more than half the votes needed for outright victory in Wednesday and Thursday's first round, the top two candidates will contest a June 16 and 17 run-off.
The next president will face huge tasks in reviving Egypt's wilting economy and restoring security. The sprawling police force, which virtually collapsed during the anti-Mubarak revolt, is only a shadow of its once-feared presence.
Voters reveled in their new ability to influence a genuinely contested election after decades of rigged votes under Mubarak.
"This is the first time that I vote in my entire life, Mohamed Mustafa, a 52-year-old engineer in Cairo's Zamalek district, told Reuters.
I didn't take part in past elections because we knew who would be president.
This is the first time we don't know.
After a campaign that gave Egyptians their first U.S.-style presidential TV debate, some voters found themselves waiting with candidates who made a point of not pushing to the front.
Independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul-Futuh, 60, was clapped on joining a Cairo queue.
Mursi, 60, said after voting in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig that Egyptians would not accept anyone from Mubarak's "corrupt former regime."
When Shafiq, 70, arrived to vote in Cairo, protesters hurled shoes and stones at him.
"The coward is here. The criminal is here," they cried. "Down with military rule."
Like Mubarak, Shafiq commanded the air force before joining the cabinet.
The former prime minister, who was appointed days before Mubarak fell and who quit soon afterwards amid protests against him in Tahrir Square, is one of the most divisive candidates.
He appeals to those who want a strongman to restore order, but others see him as embodying everything they want changed.
Moussa, 75, left Mubarak's cabinet a decade before the uprising.
At the Arab League, he built on his popularity with criticism of Israel and US policy in the region. Yet some still brand him a remnant of the old order.
For many of those who cannot stomach Islamists or Mubarak-era ministers, the favorite is leftist Hamdeen Sabahy, 57.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net