Sunday, 17 June 2012 17:25
CAIRO: Egyptians choosing their president freely for the first time faced a daunting choice between a former general from the old guard and an who says he is running for God, leaving many voters perplexed and fearful of the future.
A win for either Ahmed Shafik - the last prime minister of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak - or Mohamed Morsy, a US-educated engineer who would turn Egypt into an Islamic democracy, will go far to define the outcome of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings last year.
"We have to vote because these elections are historic," said Amr Omar, voting in Cairo, who said he was a revolutionary youth activist. "I will vote for Morsy... Even if it means electing the hypocritical, we must break the vicious cycle of Mubarak's police state."
Turnout at polling stations in several areas seemed lower on Saturday than during the first round. Polls re-opened at 8 a.m. on Sunday (0600 GMT) and were due to close at 9 p.m.
With no opinion polls, it was impossible to forecast who will emerge the winner by Monday - and whoever it is may face anger and accusations of foul play. Both men have wide support but many voters may be staying away, unhappy at a choice of extremes after centrist candidates were knocked out in a first round last month.
A sample of voter comments to Reuters near polling stations suggest many had put aside doubts about Shafik, whose campaign has gained momentum since he entered the race as an outsider.
A court dissolved Egypt's new parliament late last week, enraging who hold a sweeping majority in the assembly, who decried a coup by the military rulers who pushed their brother officer Mubarak from power 16 months ago to appease the street protests.
A win for Shafik, 70, who says he has learned the lessons of the revolt and offers security, prosperity and religious tolerance, may prompt claims of Mubarak-style vote-rigging and street protests by the some disillusioned youths who made Cairo's Tahrir Square their battleground last year.
Both candidates promise to honour the spirit of last year's mass revolt against rampant corruption, poverty and a hated police force, yet many Egyptians who voted for neither in the first round see a stale contest that smothers hopes for change.
"Egypt writes the closing chapter of the Arab Spring," read a headline on Sunday in independent newspaper al-Watan, which said the election offers a "choice between a military man who aborted the revolution and a Muslim Brother who wasted it."
Morsy's campaign suffered a blow when he failed to rally much support from candidates who lost in the first round. To sceptics of the "I will vote Shafik because I don't want anybody to impose on me a model of life that I don't accept," said health ministry employee Marianne Mallak, 29, voting in Alexandria. "I don't want somebody to rule the country in the name of religion."
Should Morsy prevail, benefiting from a movement forged by decades of clandestine struggle and from support among those who put aside qualms about Islamic rule to block a return of the old regime, he may be frustrated by an uncooperative military elite, for all the generals' pledges to cede power by July 1.
The Brotherhood on Saturday again denounced the dissolution of parliament, based on a ruling by the Mubarak-era constitutional court, as "a coup against the whole democratic process" and insisted only a popular referendum could reverse the parliamentary election.
But though overturning that vote drew comparison with events that triggered the bloody Algerian civil war 20 years ago, the Brotherhood, which hung back in the early days of the 2011 revolution, has shown little appetite for a violent showdown with Egypt's US-equipped army, the biggest in the Arab world.
That stalemate, coupled with a failure this year of legislators to form a consensus body to draft a new constitution and a consequent lack of clarity over the powers the new head of state will have, leaves Egyptians, Western allies and investors perplexed by the prospect of yet more of the uncertainty that has ravaged the economy and seen sporadic flare-ups in violence.
A gunfight killed two in Cairo overnight and 15 were injured, after a dispute between street vendors, a security source said. There was no apparent connection to the vote, which saw little trouble on Saturday despite mutual accusations of fraud. Observers reported only minor and scattered breaches.
Police arrested 22 foreigners who were planning attacks after the election, another security source said. The Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians were detained in Cairo on Saturday carrying "sophisticated weapons", the source added, without giving more details.
In 60 years since army officers toppled the colonial-era monarchy, Egypt's armed forces have built up massive wealth and commercial interests across industries, helped since the 1970s by a close US alliance which followed the decision of the most populous Arab state to make peace with Israel.
Commonly referred to as the "deep state", it is these shadowy structures, currently overseen in public by the ad hoc Supreme Council of the Armed Forces under Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, which many Egyptians see maintaining influence long after the promised handover to an elected civilian by July 1.
"It is very difficult to eradicate this spirit of Mubarak."
Only if liberals swallowed their qualms and voted for Morsy to prevent Shafik winning, Nafaa said, "only then may the 'deep state' back down - but I doubt this will happen."
Copyright Reuters, 2012