x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Egypt's historic vote: 'It feels great ... but it's also scary'

Vote in our online poll: Emotions swirl from excitement to wariness about the future as millions vote in what independent monitors called the most free and fair presidential election in Egypt's history.

Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa stands in line before casting his vote at a polling station in Cairo.Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters
Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa stands in line before casting his vote at a polling station in Cairo.Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

CAIRO // Emotions swirled from excitement to wariness about the future as millions voted yesterday in what independent monitors called the most free and fair presidential election in Egypt's history.

"It's the first time in 7,000 years that we have the choice to appoint a leader, so it feels great," said Ahmed Said, 35, a web designer standing in line at a polling station in the largely working-class Sayeda Zeinab neighbourhood.

"But it's also scary. I'm afraid the old regime may return in the guise of a different figure."

Voting continues today but none of the 13 candidates is expected win an outright majority. The two front-runners will compete in a run-off on June 16 and 17.

Monitors reported occasional irregularities but there were no signs of the voter intimidation, bribery or rigging of the past.

"This is by far the most orderly, cleanest and fairest presidential election in Egypt's history," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian-American sociologist overseeing a group of 7,000 election observers under the guidance of the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Studies and Research.

"There has been some tension, some fights in Cairo, Ismailia and Beni Suef, but it's mostly minor violations."

The Supreme Presidential Election Commission announced it had turned over evidence that Ahmed Shafiq, the former air force commander, had broken a campaigning blackout that began two days before the election.

Mr Shafiq allegedly violated rules by holding a news conference yesterday morning, at which he said he was the choice "to prevent Egypt from descending into a bloodbath" and that "those who scare Egyptians from voting from me want a weak president".

Complaints were filed by campaigns and election observers about dozens of other minor offences.

The election represents a major test for Egypt's interim government, but the notoriously bureaucratic institutions appeared to be managing a remarkable feat. More than 14,500 judges supervised 356 main polling stations and 13,596 substations, which were guarded by 150,000 soldiers.

A police officer was killed by an unidentified gunman near a polling station in the Rod Al Farag area on Tuesday night, but the incident was described by authorities as a dispute over payment between the driver of a three-wheeled taxi and a customer.

Across the country, Egyptians spoke of the election as a historic moment in a country that has been ruled by military leaders with little or no accountability for 60 years.

But they also described fears that the next president might fall short of their dreams of a more prosperous, freer Egypt. Sixteen months after Hosni Mubarak was forced out by an uprising against his regime, the election is a critical point in the transition to a civilian government. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), the group of military generals who have been in control since Mubarak was toppled, has said it will hand power to a new government on July 1.

The new president will inherit as yet uncertain powers because a new constitution has not been written. He will have to work with an Islamist-dominated parliament that is pushing for greater religious involvement in state affairs, find a way to stop a deteriorating economy from spiralling further downwards and stand up to a powerful military seeking to shield itself from civilian oversight.

It is the second test for the country's newly won democracy. Parliamentary elections held from November to February were also heralded as free and fair.

Mr Said, 35, voting in Sayeda Zeinab, said he was choosing Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, because of his "scientific thinking" and his pledge to restore Egypt's economy and bring the country back to a position of influence in the region. Mr Morsi is the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Five men stand a chance of winning a sizeable portion of the vote: Mr Shafiq; Mr Morsi; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a self-styled moderate Islamist; Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister under Mubarak; and Hamdeen Sabahi, a liberal who believes in the nationalist ideals of the former president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The wide-open electoral landscape was apparent in a queue at a polling station on the upmarket island of Zamalek on the Nile, where two women agreed on all the problems a president needs to tackle, but not on the candidate himself.

"I am going for Ahmed Shafiq," said Ghada Waheed, 32, an employee at the General Authority for Investment. "Strangely enough, I am with the revolution. I just think that he is the one who is going to make the changes we demanded actually happen."

Mr Shafiq is considered the candidate who most closely resembles Egypt's past presidents, coming from a military background and having served as a civil aviation minister under Mubarak.

Her friend, Yasmina El Habbal, 32, a former employee of the World Health Organisation in Cairo and now unemployed, said: "I agree with everything she said, but I don't think Shafiq is the right one. I'm voting for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

"Everyone is voting for how they feel. We can't know what any of them will do once in power. They all have great promises."

On the other side the street, in the queue for men, Khaled Fouad, 46, a property developer, said he was trying to decide between Mr Moussa, Mr Sabahi and Mr Aboul Fotouh.

"We really didn't have enough time to get to know the candidates," he said. "I have three in my mind but in the next half hour I will have to decide."

On a main thoroughfare in Mokkatam, on a set of cliffs overlooking Cairo, several voters were looking for the candidate to return Egypt to a state of security and begin taking care of the most neglected citizens.

"Not since the time of the pharaohs have we had this chance," said Ibrahim Mohammed, 58, an agricultural researcher. "I am choosing Hamdeen Sabahi because he believes his job is to take care of the people, especially the poor. The security situation over the past year and a half has been terrible."


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