Shafik would continue the practices of the past regime, which has led to a weak economy, massive unemployment and a shrinking middle class, opponents argue. But supporters hope a Shafik presidency also could mean a return to stability. The economy and security have only worsened since the revolution, they argue.
More immediately, many Egyptians do not believe Islamists or revolutionaries will accept the results if the top candidate is Shafik, leading to another round of mass protests in Tahrir Square.
Many believe Shafik is tacitly supported by the ruling military council that has ruled Egypt since Mubaraks ouster. Even as the votes were counted, there were already threats of returning to the streets, particularly if Shafik were to win the runoff. Shafiks polarizing impact was evident Wednesday when he was pelted with shoes as he left the polling station where he had cast his ballot.
While the numbers were preliminary, there were some patterns in the results.
Morsi dominated in poorer governorates, particularly in the middle of the country. But Morsi suffered major losses as well. In Alexandria, Egypts second-largest city and a conservative Islamist stronghold, Sabahi won with 25 percent of the vote.
In disenfranchised communities where younger voters had a strong showing, like Port Said, Sabahi won.
There appeared no pattern in Shafik-dominated communities. Some were wealthy or Christian and others were poorer areas spread around the country. His base is often referred to as the Couch Party, those who didnt participate in the revolution and are now seeking security.
In the southern governorate of Minya, where 50 percent of residents are Christian, the vote split between Morsi and Shafik.
That Shafik could have come in second suggested that he took advantage of divided votes between various revolutionary candidates. Indeed, together revolutionary candidates had more than three times as many votes as Shafik, according to returns so far.
Those votes were scattered among three main candidates: Sabahi, Aboul Fotouh, and the charismatic liberal Khaled Ali.
They made a mistake by not unifying, said Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, a leading force in the uprising. We said it from the beginning: We need one candidate for the revolution, not two or three.
Other revolutionaries abstained, saying they couldnt support a vote when theres still no constitution to define executive powers and because the election took place under military rule.
Maher said the April 6 movement will hold an internal referendum of the groups 10,000 voting members in the next few days to decide which, if either, of the finalists to endorse.
The group, like other revolutionary actors, also called for an investigation into what it alleges are serious campaign violations, such as vote-buying and pressure on Egyptians at polling places throughout the country.
Local and international monitors, however, have reported no evidence so far of widespread irregularities, though minor violations were documented at polling stations during the voting Wednesday and Thursday.
Many liberal and leftist revolutionaries, who are notoriously disorganized and lacking in funds, said they were disappointed but not necessarily shocked at the preliminary results.
After all, they said, the Muslim Brotherhoods steamroller election machine boasted seemingly endless resources and a massive get-out-the-vote campaign in even the most far-flung provinces.
Shafik, meanwhile, tapped the deep coffers and organization of members of the former regime, his critics claimed. His law-and-order platform resonated with Egyptians whove grown weary of nonstop demonstrations and Islamist power grabs.
He also played to the deep-seated fears of Egypts Coptic Christians, some 10 percent of the population, handily scooping up that bloc, too.
Revolutionary candidates thought the Facebook and Twitter community is Egypt, which its not, said Emam, the womens advocate.
Egyptian presidential commission officials told McClatchy that they would not release any official numbers until May 29, allowing candidates time to appeal any district results. But the election commission has the final word on the results, giving the candidates no chance to appeal.
The election has been defined by unpredictability. No one candidate ever dominated the two-month campaign season. Rather, momentum swung among the four candidates who ended up battling for the two top slots. So far, none of the remaining nine candidates have conceded the election or endorsed a candidate since, they said, the results are not official. And regardless of the outcome, the responsibilities of the new president remain unclear, as Egypt has yet to pass a new constitution.
The ruling military council has promised to do so before the next president is expected to be inaugurated July 1.
McClatchy special correspondents Mohannad Sabry and Amina Ismail contributed.