Egypt will hear the results of elections which Islamist parties expect to win on Friday, and protesters gathered at a rally to remember 42 people killed in clashes with police last month.
Islamist success at the polls in the most populous Arab nation would reinforce a trend in North Africa. Moderate Islamists lead governments in Morocco and post-uprising Tunisia after election wins in the last two months.
Egyptians voting freely for the first time since army officers ousted the king in 1952 seem willing to give Islamists a chance. “We tried everyone, why not try sharia (Islamic law) once?” asked Ramadan Abdel Fattah, 48, a bearded civil servant.
Parliament, whose exact makeup will be clear only after Egypt’s staggered voting process ends in January, may challenge the power of the generals who took over in February after an uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak, an ex-air force chief.
The first-stage poll results are expected later on Friday.
Under pressure to hand over to civilian rule, the military council said it will keep powers to appoint or fire a cabinet and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to back off a statement from the party’s head that the majority in parliament should form a government.
Youthful demonstrators have called their protest to remember the “martyred” and to reinforce their demand that the army step down immediately, for after Friday prayers in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of opposition to Mubarak’s rule.
The world is closely watching the poll, keen for stability in Egypt. US and its European allies have urged the generals to step aside and make way for civilian rule. But they also worry that Islamist rule in Egypt might erode social freedoms and threaten Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.