Outcome of presidential election could not be more consequential to the nation, but few voters are happy with the options.
Egyptian women vote at a polling station in Shubrah El-Kheima, a working class, industrial area on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, June 16, 2012. Egyptians voted Saturday in the country's landmark presidential runoff, choosing between Hosni Mubarak's ex-prime minister and an Islamist candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood after a race that has deeply polarized the nation. The two-day balloting will produce Egypt's first president since a popular uprising last year ousted Mubarak, who is now serving a life sentence.
CAIRO - Egyptians expressed wariness Saturday as they lined up in sweltering heat to vote in the runoff election for a replacement for ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In sharp contrast to recent elections, the mood in Cairo and across the country was largely tense as Egyptians contemplated the polarizing choice between Mohammed Morsi, a conservative Islamist, and Ahmed Shafiq, who was Mubarak's last prime minister. With the country's lower house of parliament dissolved, the constitution suspended and the revolution pronounced all but dead, the outcome of the presidential vote that continues Sunday could not be more consequential.
"This is a decisive moment, but nobody feels confident about anything," said Samia, 45, a Shafiq supporter who asked to be identified by her first name because of her government job. "It's like rolling the dice and hoping for the best."
A setback to Brotherhood
The runoff began two days after a court ruling led to the dissolution of the lower house of Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament, a move that activists and some political figures described as a soft military coup. A small movement of boycotters urged voters to spoil their ballots in what they saw as an illegitimate election under military rule.
The once-repressed Muslim Brotherhood has thrived since the revolt that overthrew Mubarak. The group dominated the parliament and took a sizable share of the seats in a body tasked with writing a new constitution. But after the dissolution of parliament, the military junta assumed all legislative powers. Military chiefs are soon expected to appoint a new constitutional assembly and issue a decree outlining the powers of the presidency.
That means the Brotherhood's sole hope of remaining politically powerful in the short run lies with Morsi.
On Saturday, the Brotherhood appeared to be laying the groundwork to cry fraud if Shafiq is pronounced the winner. The group released a statement listing alleged violations, including military conscripts voting illegally and the arrest of revolutionaries holding pictures of slain protesters outside polling stations. However, the Brotherhood did not claim widespread fraud and expressed confidence that Morsi would win.
The group's political wing had harsh words for Egypt's military.
'Remember the blood of the martyrs'
Dissolving parliament "confirms the desire of the military to take all authority against popular will," said the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said. It urged Egyptians to "remember the blood of the martyrs and the pain of the injured and do not allow in any way the return of the tyrannical and despotic regime."
Egypt's transition has been marred by division among liberals, leftists and Islamists as well as what many see as the military rulers' intention to protect their economic and political interests at the cost of democracy.
This week, the Justice Ministry effectively put the nation under martial law, authorizing the military police to arrest any citizen suspected of a wide range of crimes.
After voting, Morsi promised a crowd of supporters, "I will lead you to the new Egypt and stability."
In contrast, Shafiq slipped in through a side door of his polling station and left with little fanfare.
Turnout appeared high in some parts of the country but relatively low in the capital. About 150,000 security officers secured polling stations across the country.
In Cairo's neighborhood of Imbaba, veiled women lined up outside a schoolhouse. "Before, everyone was happy," said Fatima Soliman, 50, who whispered that she would vote for Shafiq. "Now nobody is happy."
In suburban Shubra el-Kheima, Morsi Ismail, 70, said he was thrilled that parliament had been disbanded. The Brotherhood, he said, "was trying to control all our institutions."
Rudji Mohamed, 39, an upholstery repairman, was unwilling to say who he voted for but made it clear he was disheartened by the dissolution of parliament. He said, "We lived under repression for 30 years."