Egyptians voted yesterday in the country’s first free presidential elections, with Islamists and secularists vying for power with competing visions of an Egypt liberated of ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s iron grip.
Long lines of people, many in festive mood, wound their way outside polling stations across the country throughout the day after polls opened at 8am.
“It’s a beautiful day for Egypt,” said Nehmedo Abdel Hadi, who was voting at the Omar Makram school in Cairo’s Shubra neighborhood.
“Now I feel this is my country and I have dignity,” said the 46-year-old woman, who wears a full-face veil.
Across the city, in the leafy Mohandesseen neighborhood, Rania, wearing gym clothes and a ponytail under her baseball cap, was at the front of the line.
“It’s the first time in Egypt’s history we choose our president,” she said, preferring to keep her choice “a secret between me and my ballot box.”
More than 50 million eligible voters have been called to choose one of 12 candidates wrestling to succeed Mubarak.
Voting over two days is taking place at 13,000 polling stations, with initial results expected on Sunday. Voting ends at 8pm on both days.
A senior interior ministry official said police were on standby across the country and helping soldiers secure polling stations.
The election marks the final phase of a tumultuous transition overseen by the ruling military council after Mubarak’s ouster in a popular uprising last year.
Pollsters say the large number of voters undecided between candidates reflecting radically different trends, and the novelty of a free presidential vote, make the election almost impossible to call.
Turnout in the scorching heat appeared lower than in parliamentary and senate elections last winter, but many voters were expected to cast their ballots later in the day and today.
Leading contenders include former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who is seen as an experienced politician and diplomat, but like Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, is accused of belonging to the old regime.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Mursi, faces competition from Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrays himself as a consensus choice with a wide range of support.
The election caps a roller-coaster transition, marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed parliamentary polls that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.