If Morsi were to become president, the long-outlawed Brotherhood would have a near-monopoly on political power in the country, making it the runaway victor in a popular revolt it was initially reluctant to embrace. But prevailing in a second round could be challenging for Morsi, analysts say, because most potential rivals would probably appeal to a broad set of constituencies that do not want the Islamist group to run Egypt.
The Egyptian transition could have far-reaching implications for U.S. interests in the region, chief among them Cairo’s peace treaty with Israel and the regional stability it represents. In recent months, U.S. officials have sought assurances from the Brotherhood and other emerging political groups that continued American military aid will ensure the treaty is honored.
For the United States and Egypt, analysts said, one advantage of a strong Morsi showing could be short-term stability.
“Because of how organized the Brotherhood are, Morsi is a result that’s not likely to provoke questions about the legitimacy of the election,” said Michele Dunne, a former Middle East specialist at the National Security Council who is now at the Atlantic Council.
“On the other hand, an Islamist president is going to come in with potentially a very different view of world affairs. No one knows how they will handle the crises that will inevitably occur, whether it’s Israel, the West Bank, Gaza or Lebanon.”
Brotherhood leaders said at a news conference late Thursday that preliminary counts from 236 of the 13,000 polling stations suggested that Morsi is leading with more than 40 percent of the vote.
“The Egyptian people proved that they are able to form a new regime,” said Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader. “We respect the results whatever the outcome is.”
Officials results are scheduled to be released Tuesday. With none of the 13 candidates expected to garner 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters is scheduled for June 16-17. The presidential election commission told reporters Thursday night that slightly more than 40 percent of Egypt’s 52 million registered voters had cast ballots in the first round.
The strong support over the past two days for Morsi — an uncharismatic politician who was unknown to most Egyptians until recently — is the latest sign that conservative Muslim political parties are gaining the most from the regional revolutions that erupted early last year, toppling four autocratic rulers and upending the geopolitics of the Middle East and North Africa.