Egyptian voters are awaiting results of the first stage of landmark parliamentary elections to be released Thursday, a day later than originally planned.
The Freedom and Justice Party, a front for Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, said the bloc was in the lead following largely peaceful voting on Monday and Tuesday. But the party faces new competition from the al-Nur Party, an ultra-conservative group whose members follow the strict Salafi brand of Islam, as well as from a host of smaller parties.
The FJP challenged Egypt's military rulers by claiming high voter turnout signified a popular demand for civilian rule. The military leadership hailed round one as a success.
.U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Egyptians for what he called their "enthusiastic participation at the ballot box."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Egyptians on a "peaceful, successful start to their election process." She said "Egyptians are justifiably proud to begin the process of choosing their new leaders." She said the American people will continue to stand by the people of Egypt as they move toward a democratically elected civilian government that respects universal human rights and will meet their aspirations for dignity, freedom, and a better life.
The historic elections will determine whether Egypt moves away from decades of authoritarian secular rule, and down a different -- possibly Islamic -- path.
At least 42 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured in clashes between protesters and security forces in the lead-up to the election.
Full tallies for the lower house will not be announced until January, after two more rounds of voting in the rest of the country. The entire election will not be over until March.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.