As the Egyptian election approaches no one can predict the results

Campaign banners go up in Cairo.

This is no doubt the first election in Egyptian history where no one knows what will be the outcome.

As banners go up around Cairo, and candidates travel the country to remote rural villages, pollsters say around 40 per cent of voters are still undecided. And most observers here agree that the polls cannot be relied on, especially because it is so hard to collect reliable data outside of the cities.

The Islamists are trying to exude self confidence: at an outdoor evening rally in Cairo for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brother who presents himself as the "big tent" candidate, actors, Marxists, sports stars, ultraconservative Islamic salafis, and families crowded a fairgrounds near the Cairo opera. The same day, the Muslim Brothers tried to show their organizational muscle by staging a 470 mile human chain across the country.

Only a couple of days ago, most people I talked with believed the Islamists would win. At a dinner tonight, at an open air restaurant on the Nile, the verdict was that a secular candidate of the old regime had the best chance, because Egyptians were getting nervous about the lack of security and their tanking economy. At a meeting of 2000 women I attended Saturday morning, who were gathered to hear representatives of all the presidential candidates (all men), there was no clear pick among the several ladies I spoke with. Women leaders insisted they would not be pushed back by Islamists, and gave secular speakers a hard time as well when they felt they were being patronized.

Whatever the results this week, this will be an entirely new adventure for a people that has been given orders from leaders on high.