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“We want democracy and what they want is anything but democratic,” said Amir Fouad, a Coptic Christian who trained as an engineer but drives a taxi because he can’t find another job. “They want Egypt to be like Saudi Arabia, all Islamic.”

Fouad, 40, said he worries the Salafists will force Christian women to wear Islamic veils.

“I feel like it will be very hard for me to live in Egypt if they rule,” he said. “They will take Egypt backward.”

Even some religious Egyptians see the Salafists as too extreme.

“I am religious and don’t want laws that go against my beliefs, but there shouldn’t be religious law,” said Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a geography teacher. “I don’t want anyone imposing his religious views on me.”

The voting for Egypt’s lower house of parliament is staggered over three stages. This week’s vote, held in nine provinces, will determine about 30 percent of the 498 seats in the People’s Assembly. Two more rounds, ending in January, will cover Egypt’s other 18 provinces. Three more rounds before March will elect the less powerful upper house.

The ballots are a confusing mix of party lists that will gain seats according to proportions of votes and individual candidates.

Results announced Friday by the election commission showed only three of the individual candidates winning from the first round, while the rest must enter runoffs.

No other official results were announced Friday.

Ibrahim, of the election commission, described difficult conditions during the vote and the count, saying judges who oversaw the process labored in a cramped, dimly lit room where “it was impossible for anyone to do his job.”

Calling the news conference to a close, Ibrahim said, “I’m out of gas,” and told reporters pressing for more information that they should get the results themselves from material distributed by the election commission.

Hamad said the Nour Party appeared to lead the polls in the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheik, in the rural area of Fayoum, which is known for high rates of illiteracy and poverty, and in parts of their longtime stronghold of Alexandria.

Hamad also said the party faced its toughest challenge in Cairo because of the small presence of Salafi supporters there.

Islamist victory in Egypt — long considered a linchpin of regional stability — would be the clearest signal yet that parties and candidates connected to political Islam will emerge as the main beneficiaries of this year’s Arab Spring uprisings.

Tunisia and Morocco have both elected Islamist majorities to parliament, and while Libya has yet to announce dates for its first elections, Islamist groups have emerged as a strong force there since rebels overthrew Moammar Gadhafi in August. They also play a strong opposition role in Yemen.

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