Moderate Islamist Moursi is thought to have garnered around 27 per cent, with Shafiq, who was premier for a time under deposed president Hosni Mubarak, securing 23 per cent, according to unofficial independent results.
Liberal Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Foutouh and Nasserist/leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi tie for third place with about 18 per cent. While former foreign minister Amr Moussa comes in fifth, in counting done by Iyad El-Baghdadi.
Figures show a turnout of around 50 per cent, ranging from 29 per cent in the Upper Egypt governorate of Aswan, to as high as 54 per cent in Suez, according to Al-Ahram newspaper.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s performance in the polls is unlikely to surprise many but Shafiq’s support will be seen as more of a shock.
In Minoufiya, a governorate with a majority population of low-income farmers, Shafiq is thought to have taken more then half the vote, maybe an indication of his campaign’s appeal to stability and security.
Amr Moussa did not win the support he was expected to get in Upper Egypt. Instead the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have won over voters, taking just over a third of ballots, with Shafiq securing 27 per cent.
In the city of Alexandria, experienced politician Sabahi, who claims to defend the legacy of nationalist former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, seems to have topped the polls. While in Suez the picture is more mixed, with Mousri just edging his rivals, and Shafiq coming fifth.
Cairo results are yet to be finalised.
Following early results Shafiq thanked his supporters on Facebook, according to Al-Ahram. He also saluted Sabahi and said he would not be “upset” if the third-placed candidate won, because he is a “patriotic” man.
In an interview on Thursday, Shafiq’s campaign spokesperson Ahmad Sarhan told RFI that he thinks it is unlikely that Egypt’s revolutionary youth will take to the streets.
“Many of the revolutionary youth comes here to the headquarters and talks to him [Shafiq] about the future,” Sarhan said, from the relatively elegant campaign office in the Dokki district of the capital.
“He opened his heart to them [the youth] and tried to listen to them. He told them clearly, the Muslim Brotherhood, they took it [the revolution] away from you,” Sarhan added.
The sentiment amongst youth is likely to be the most significant measure of possible challenges to the results and potential protests. Many see Shafiq as the chosen candidate of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and representative of the remnants of the Mubarak regime.
Sabahi’s surprise late increase in popularity can be attributed in some part to support from the revolutionary youth. On Thursday his campaign gave RFI the most accurate assessment of the outcome, given Friday’s early results. Putting Sabahi in the top three, the most modest prediction we have received from any of the contenders’ camps.
“He’s been changing position with Amr Moussa and Mohamed Moursi, in some areas. While in others it is between him and Ahmed Shafiq and Moursi,” said Sayed El-Toukhy a member of Sabahi’s campaign committee.
If necessary a second round runoff poll will take place on 16/17 June.