CAIRO: Egypt awaited the delayed publication on Friday of results for the opening phase of its first elections since the overthrow of veteran president Hosni Mubarak.
The date for results has been pushed back twice from their initially scheduled time of Wednesday evening, with the delay blamed on high turnout estimated at above 70 per cent in Monday and Tuesday's vote.
Two demonstrations were called for Friday, one in iconic Tahrir Square against the military regime overseeing the country's promised transition to democracy, and another elsewhere in the capital to support it.
Millions of Egyptians embraced their new democratic freedoms in Cairo and second-city Alexandria earlier this week in an orderly and peaceful first phase of multi-stage parliamentary elections.
The results are expected to show the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate movement banned for decades by Mubarak, as the dominant force after it said its party had taken at least 40 per cent of the vote in preliminary counting.
The battle for second place had been seen as between secular liberals and religious parties, but local media indicated the latter were poised to prevail with more than 20 per cent.
Analysts warn against reading too much into only the first part of a parliamentary election, but the results will reveal the political trends in a country that has not had a free vote in 60 years.
Only a third of constituencies voted on Monday and Tuesday in the election for a new lower house of parliament. The rest of the country will follow on December 14 and then on January 3.
The prospect of a parliament dominated by religious parties raises fears among liberals about civil liberties, religious freedom in a country with the Middle East's largest Christian minority, and tolerance of multi-party democracy.
A leading Salafi candidate to be the next president, Hazem Abu Ismail, aired his views on society and religion in a television interview on the CBC satellite channel on Thursday evening.
Asked if he would allow his son to marry an unveiled woman, he replied: “I would tell him not to marry her...all Muslim women want to be veiled, but those who are not simply haven't had the strength.”
Leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, the moderate religious group set to be the main party in parliament, have repeatedly stressed their commitment to multi-party democracy and inclusiveness, and have pledged to ensure freedoms.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party says it strives for a “civil state, defined as a non-military non-religious state...that respects human rights” according to its political program.
The group has been officially banned since the 1950s, but it counts hundreds of thousands of members and is known for its vast network of social and religious outreach programs, as well as its stand against corruption.
It remains unclear how the new parliament will function and how much power it will be given by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces headed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's long-time defence minister.
Last week, 43 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured in violent protests against the interim military regime which pro-democracy activists accuse of reneging on promises to hand power to civilian leaders.
Analysts say Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation and its cultural heart, faces a long, highly complex and uncertain transition to democracy.