A preliminary count of votes for Egyptians living abroad has put Islamist candidate Abdul-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh in the lead, followed by left-leaning Hamdeen Sabahi. The online statement by the State Information Service (SIS) on Saturday added that the figures "confirmed a sharp competition" for third between Amr Moussa and Mohamed Mursi.
The note did not elaborate on the precise breakdown of votes, or how many had been counted so far. A total of 587,000 Egyptians abroad registered to participate, according to the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC). The figure represents just 1.13 percent of citizens eligible to take part, but nonetheless gives valuable clues about the current strength of the 13 candidates running for the top job. Almost 45 percent of Egyptian voters overseas reside in Saudi Arabia, and some 119,000 in Kuwait.
Numbers have gradually been trickling in from individual consulates and embassies around the world. In a press conference on Saturday, Egypt’s ambassador to Kuwait said that Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), had garnered the most votes in what appeared to be a closely-fought race. Out of a total of 55,288, Mursi secured 17,139 votes. Aboul-Fotouh came in second with 14,109, followed by Sabahi.
The 58-year-old Sabahi has moved more into the limelight as of late, offering to many an acceptable trade-off by being neither associated with the former regime, nor linked to any Islamist movements. He has also been among the most outspoken critics of ties with Israel, a popular talking point among candidates and voters alike.
The initial results also amplified existing disparities in opinion polls, and left observers largely uncertain over who will win Egypt’s first free presidential contest. Similarly, it provided fuel for skeptics doubting the credibility of pre-election surveys and plenty of material for heated discussions among Egyptians.
Polling stations open on Wednesday and Thursday this week. In the event not a single candidate secures more than fifty percent of the vote, a run-off will be held on June 16 and 17. The outcome of the first round is to be announced on May 29.
In a final scramble to capture votes, candidates traveled across the country on Sunday. Opinion polls have suggested that undecided voters could amount to as much as 40 percent of eligible voters. The rhetoric between the presidential hopefuls has sharpened considerably as well, while posters and banners were almost being torn down as quickly as they had come up.
Investors have become more nervous as election day draws closer. At an auction on Thursday, the average yield on 182-day Egyptian T-bills rose to a post-revolution high of 15.194 percent, Meanwhile, the Egyptian Pound was still hovering at 7-year-lows.
It was an equally difficult day for most traders of the Egyptian Stock Exchange. The benchmark index fell 1.3 percent and turned negative month-to-date, for the first this year. Across the Atlantic in the US, the Market Vectors ETF Egyptlost 6.35 percent in the last five trading session.
Egypt has the Arab World’s largest population, and the upcoming presidential vote is seen as a crucial test for democratic change since the Arab Spring swept across the region last year.
Yousef Gamal El-Din is CNBC's Middle East Correspondent and contributes to the channel’s flagship shows, as well as analysis for CNBC.com.
Stay in touch with him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/youseftv @youseftv