CAIRO - Egyptians are awaiting results of their first free election in six decades, with the Muslim Brotherhood expecting to pick up two-fifths of the vote for an assembly that might limit the power of the generals.
"We abide by the rules of democracy and accept the will of the people," Essam el-Erian, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian.
"There will be winners and losers. But the real -- and only -- victor is Egypt."
Initial results indicate the FJP is on the course to secure about 40% of seats allocated to party lists.
Estimates also show that Salafists would win around 20 percent of the vote.
"Al-Nour, the surprise of the moment," headlined the independent Al-Shorouq daily on Thursday, referring to the main party of the Salafists.
Results of contests for individual seats in the first stage of elections, held on Monday and Tuesday, are set to be announced on Friday.Results of party lists for allocated for parliament seats will be made public in January, after the two remaining phases of elections held.
The election was the first to be held in Egypt since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in a popular revolt in February.
In contrast to the intimidation and gross electoral abuses that were rife during Mubarak's 30-year rule, the elections unfolded peacefully with only minor violations.
Yasser Abdel Moneim, 47, an English teacher who voted for the Brotherhood's FJP, said the difference was striking.
"Before there was thuggery and people were passive. People used to ask, 'why should I go vote? It's rigged anyway'," he said.
Analysts have played down worries about the rise of Islamists in post-Mubarak Egypt.
"The clear winner thus far is the Egyptian people, who have spoken decisively about their desire to complete their transition to democracy," said Sergio Bitar, co-leader of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute delegation monitoring the poll.
Western powers are coming to accept that the advent of democracy in the Arab world may bring Islamists to power, with moderate Islamist parties already topping recent polls in Morocco and Tunisia.
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani called Thursday on Western powers to embrace rising Islamists in the Arab world.
"We shouldn't fear them, let's cooperate with them. We should not have a problem with anyone who operates within the norms of international law, comes to power and fights terrorism," Sheikh Hamad told the Financial Times.
Some Egyptians fear the Muslim Brotherhood might try to impose Islamic curbs on a tourism-dependent country whose 80 million people include a 10 percent Coptic Christian minority.
Ali Khafagi, the leader of the FJP's youth committee, dismissed such concerns, saying the Brotherhood's goal was to end corruption and start reform and economic development.
Only a "mad group" would try to ban alcohol or force women to wear headscarves," 28-year-old Ali Khafagi told Reuters.
Any new government will have to grapple with an economic crisis that has already forced the Egyptian pound to its lowest level in nearly seven years after tourism and foreign investment collapsed in the turmoil since Mubarak's fall on February 11.
"The effects of a ballooning deficit are not felt on the street straight away," said a financial analyst, who asked not to be named, adding that austerity measures were inevitable."These are seldom received positively by the public as they involve tax increases, spending cuts or both."