Egypt launched its first free presidential election in six decades on Wednesday,
as Islamists battled with former regime figures to inherit the seat vacated by
Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago.
Balloting will continue on Thursday,
with a runoff next month between the top two vote-getters. First round results
will be formally announced on Tuesday, but the outcome could be clear as early
The military council in charge of a messy and often bloody
political transition has overseen a constitutional referendum, parliamentary
polls and now a vote for a president to whom it has promised to hand over power
by July 1.
There were no reliable opinion polls, but Egyptians enjoyed
the uncertainty after the rigged votes of Mubarak’s 30 years in
“The outcome is not yet clear, in large part because the Egyptian
electorate is seriously fragmented and driven by both political and religious
divisions,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council,
told The Jerusalem Post.
“Behind the current presidential contest is a
larger competition between secularists and the Egyptian military on the one
hand, and Islamist forces on the other,” Berman said. “The past year has also
seen a catastrophic decline in Egypt’s economic health. How Egyptians vote will
reflect who they believe can best steer the ship into more stable economic
Voting passed calmly for the most part, but candidate Ahmed
Shafiq, who was Mubarak’s last prime minister, came under attack from protesters
who threw stones and shoes at his convoy as he voted at a Cairo polling station
late in the day.
Shafiq, 70, was not hurt in the melee, witnesses
Whoever wins faces the huge task of reversing a dire economic
outlook and will also have to deal with a military establishment keen to
preserve its privileges and political influence.
The relative powers of
the president, government, parliament, judiciary and military have yet to be defined
as a tussle over who should write a new constitution rumbles on.
much of the country the mood was festive and relaxed, with voters chatting in
lines that thinned as temperatures climbed and swelled again in the evening.
Voting was extended by one hour and the government declared Thursday a holiday
to encourage a high turnout.
In one Cairo district, 75-yearold candidate
Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general, stood
in line with everyone else. “I hope they will elect a president who can really
lead Egypt at this time of crisis,” he said.
Some voters clapped for
independent Islamist contender Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, 60, when he too joined
a line in Cairo.
“For the first time the Egyptian people went out to
choose their president after the end of an era of ‘pharaohs,’” Abol Fotouh said,
alluding to Mubarak and his autocratic predecessors who, like him, were drawn
from the top ranks of the military.
Many Egyptians felt empowered and
excited by the occasion.
One Alexandria minibus driver was not charging
voters heading to the polls.
“The rides today are on me,” said Fathi
Abdelaal. “Egyptians are finally in command of their destiny.”
George Boulos voiced the concerns of many of his fellow
Christians, who make up a 10th of the population, about the rise of Islamists
who already dominate parliament.
“I voted for Ahmed Shafiq because he is
balanced and a non-Islamist candidate. He is not prejudiced against any segment
of society. He is for all ordinary Egyptians,” Boulos said.
The AFP news
agency quoted a Coptic woman as saying “everyone” in Shubra, a poor Christian
suburb of Cairo, was voting for the former prime minister and air force
“Shafiq is a respectable man who can restore the country,” said
the woman, identified only as Mary.
The agency quoted another, unnamed,
Christian woman as saying she had considered selecting Moussa “because he’s an
experienced man,” but in the end cast her ballot for Shafiq “because everyone’s
voting for him.”
The election is being closely followed outside of Egypt
as well. The West has long been wary of Islamists, and Israel is fearful about
the fate of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and the boost the Muslim
Brotherhood could give to its Palestinian offshoot Hamas in Gaza.
Arabia and other USaligned Gulf states were alarmed at the fall of their
longtime ally Mubarak and now worry about who will replace him at the helm of
the most populous Arab nation.
To allay Gulf fears, the Muslim
Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi said on Sunday: “We will not export our revolution
to anyone.” After voting, the USeducated engineer took a swipe at Moussa and
Shafiq: “No way can anyone from the fallen, corrupt, former regime come back to
influence this nation.”
Shafiq appeals to Egyptians who want a strong
hand to bring stability, even if opponents say he is tainted by links to the old
order. Defending himself, Shafiq told a news conference: “I worked for the big
family of Egypt – not for someone or for a regime.”
Moussa left Mubarak’s
cabinet more than a decade ago.
After moving to the Arab League, he built
up the popularity he had gained by criticizing Israel and US policy in the
Abol Fotouh, who was kicked out of the Brotherhood when he said
he would run against its wishes, has sought support across the spectrum from
relative liberals to hard-line Salafi Muslims.
Leftist Hamdeen Sabahy has
gained traction with many voters unsatisfied both with Islamists and Mubarak’s
“Those who have been marginalized and throttled can now
get their rights in a country of freedom and dignity,” Sabahy, a veteran
champion of the downtrodden, said after voting in Cairo.
pressure from his US ally, did stage one multi-candidate vote in 2005, but with
curbs that barred any realistic challenge to his rule.
popular revolt overthrew him before another election that would have been due