Islamists trounced their liberal rivals in the opening phase of Egypt's first election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, figures showed on Sunday, with one in four voters choosing hardline Salafists.
Islamist parties won 65 percent of all votes cast for parties in the first round of parliamentary polls last week, while the main secular liberal coalition managed just 13.4 percent.
Among the Islamist vote, the moderate Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of the Muslim Brotherhood won 36.6 percent, followed by the hardline Salafist Al-Nur party with 24.4 percent and the moderate Al-Wasat with 4.3 percent.
"We welcome the Egyptian people's choice," FJP spokesman Ahmed Sobea told AFP. "Egypt now needs all parties to cooperate together to get it out of its crisis."
The Brotherhood had been widely forecast to triumph in the first free election in decades. It is the country's most organised political group and is well known for its charity work and opposition to Mubarak's 30-year regime.
But the showing from Salafist groups, which advocate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia, was a surprise, raising fears of an ultra-conservative and overtly religious 498-member new lower parliament.
The Salafis, newcomers who founded parties only after the toppling of Mubarak in February, trailed the FJP only slightly in the city of Alexandria and won a majority in northern Kafr el-Sheikh and Damietta provinces.
Followers of the Salafi strain of Islam advocate a stricter segregation of the sexes, the full veiling of women and a ban on alcohol.
Parliamentary candidate Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat last week raised hackles when he accused the late Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, a Nobel prize winner, of "inciting promiscuity, prostitution and atheism."
"Since forming our party, it has been the party that worked most on the ground and brought up issues such as education and the economy," Al-Nur's head Emad al-Din Abdel Ghaffour told AFP on Sunday.
He credited a strong grassroots campaign for his party's surprise showing despite a "campaign of defamation" and stressed that the party would not discriminate against women or the country's eight million Christians.
There were few bright spots for the liberal secular movement which played a large role in the 18-day uprising that led Mubarak to stand down and hand power to a council of military leaders charged with ushering in democracy.
Mohammed Hamed, a candidate with the liberal Free Egyptians party, warned that the Islamists would face resistance if they enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
"All the people will turn into the opposition. Most Muslims are not extremist. If they do not feel the danger (of hardline Islamism) yet, they will if it is applied," he said.
There was also the first reported violence on Sunday since polls opened on Monday, when the driver of a liberal candidate died in a gunfight with Al-Wasat supporters in the northern Manufia province, MENA news agency reported.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
The election results in Egypt fit a pattern established in Tunisia and Morocco where Islamists have also gained in elections as they benefit from the new freedoms brought by the pro-democracy movements of the Arab Spring.
Israel, which shares a border and 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, expressed deep concern over the trend.
"We are worried," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel public radio on Sunday, adding that he hoped Egypt "won't become an extremist Islamist state because that would put the whole region in danger."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that the treaty remains in the interest of Egypt as well as of its neighbours.
"We hope that any government to be formed in Egypt will recognise the importance of keeping the peace treaty with Israel, as a value of its own and as a foundation to the financial and security stability of the region," he said on Sunday.
The Brotherhood has been at pains to stress its commitment to multi-party democracy, inclusiveness and civil liberties, while also advocating the application of sharia law.
Voting on Monday and Tuesday was only the opening phase of an election for a new lower house of parliament that is taking place in three stages, but the returns reveal the main political trends now shaping Egypt.
The rest of the country will go the polls in a further two stages later this month and in January.
Voters were required to pass three votes: two for individual candidates and one for a party or coalition.
The figures above are for the party results.
Both the FJP and Al-Nur stand to gain further seats in run-off elections on Monday for the individual candidates. Only four out of 56 individual seats were won outright in the first round of voting.
The FJP said it had 45 candidates in the 52 run-offs on Monday, while Al-Nur said it had 26.
The Brotherhood and other political parties are now expected to face a fierce power struggle for control with the interim army regime over the appointment of a cabinet and the drafting of a new constitution.
The percentages were calculated by AFP on the basis of total number of valid votes cast.
The FJP won 3.56 million out of a total 9.73 million votes cast, or 36.6 percent. Al-Nur party won 2.37 million, or 24.4 percent, and the Wasat party 415,590 votes, or 4.3 percent.
The main liberal coalition, the Egyptian Bloc, won 1.29 million votes or 13.4 percent.