Egypt votes for new president
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012
See how the day unfolded with Al-Akhbar's live blog.
More than 15 months after autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak's ouster, Egyptians streamed to polling stations on Wednesday to freely choose a president for the first time in generations. Waiting hours in line, some debated to the last minute over their vote in a historic election pitting old regime figures against ascending Islamists.
A sense of amazement at having a choice in the Arab world's first truly competitive presidential election pervaded the crowds in line. At the same time, voters were fervent with expectations over where a new leader will take a country that has been in turmoil ever since its ruler for nearly 30 years was toppled by mass protests.
Some backed Mubarak-era veterans, believing they can bring stability after months of rising crime, a crumbling economy and bloody riots. Others were horrified by the thought, believing the "feloul" – or "remnants" of the regime – will keep Egypt locked in dictatorship and thwart democracy.
Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, saw their chance to lead a country where they were repressed for decades and to implement their version of Islamic law. Their critics recoiled, fearing theocracy.
"You can't tell me, 'Vote for this or else you're a sinner!'" Wael Ramadan argued with an Islamist-backer in line at a polling station in the impoverished Cairo neighborhood of Basateen. "We never said that," protested the man. "Yes, you did," Ramadan shot back.
"The revolution changed a lot, for good and bad," Ramadan, a 40-year-old employee at a mobile phone company, said afterward.
"The good thing is all this freedom. We are here and putting up with the trouble of waiting in line for electing a president. My vote matters...Now we want a president who has a vision."
A field of 13 candidates is running in Wednesday and Thursday's voting. The two-day first run is not expected to produce an outright winner, so a runoff between the two top candidates will be held June 16-17.
The winner will be announced June 21. Around 50 million people are eligible to vote. Turnout so far appeared moderate, and Wednesday's vote was extended another hour.
An Islamist victory will likely mean a greater emphasis on religion in government. The Muslim Brotherhood, which already dominates parliament, says it won't mimic Saudi Arabia and force women to wear veils or implement harsh punishments like amputations.
Many of the candidates have called for amendments in Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which remains deeply unpopular.
None is likely to dump it, but a victory by any of the Islamist or leftist candidates in the race could mean strained ties with Israel and a stronger stance in support of the Palestinians in the peace process.
The candidates from the Mubarak's regime – and, ironically, the Brotherhood, which has already held multiple talks with US officials – are most likely to maintain the alliance with the United States.
The real election battle is between four front-runners.
The main Islamist contenders are Mohammed Mursi of the powerful Brotherhood and Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a moderate Islamist whose inclusive platform has won him the support of some liberals, leftists and minority Christians.
The two secular front-runners are both veterans of Mubarak's regime – former prime minister Ahmed Shafik and former foreign minister Amr Moussa.
A major worry is whether either side will accept victory by the other. Many Islamists have warned of new protests if Shafiq wins, saying his victory could only come from fraud. Some believe the ruling military is determined to see Shafiq, a former air force commander, win.
"Over my dead body will Shafik or Moussa win. Why not just bring back Mubarak?" said Saleh Zeinhom, a merchant backing Abul-Fotouh.