Cairo: Egyptians were on Saturday casting their ballots to choose the country’s first freely-elected President since a popular uprising last year ousted Hosni Mubarak, who is now serving a life sentence.
The two-day run-off pits Ahmed Shafiq, who was a career Air Force officer like Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, a US-trained engineer. The winner will be only the fifth president since the monarchy was overthrown nearly 60 years ago. Shafiq is viewed as an extension of Mubarak`s authoritarian regime while Morsi has raised fears of more religion in government and restricted freedoms if he wins.
Security is being beefed up around polling stations nationwide with more than double the number of troops and police compared to last month`s first-round vote. According to security officials, there will be around 200,000 policemen and 200,000 soldiers deployed to secure an election that may see violence flare.
The election is supposed to be the last stop in a turbulent transition overseen by the military generals who took over from Mubarak. But the issue of whether they will genuinely surrender power by July 01 as they promised has come under question since the military-backed government this week gave military police and intelligence agents the right to arrest civilians for a host of suspected crimes — a move that was widely interpreted as a de facto declaration of martial law.
On Thursday, judges appointed by the former president before he was toppled dissolved the Islamist-dominated Parliament and ruled that Shafiq could stay in the race despite a legislation barring Mubarak regime figures from running for office.
"The revolution was stolen from us," merchant Nabil Abdel-Fatah said as he waited in line outside a polling centre in Cairo`s working-class district of Imbaba. He said he planned to vote for Shafiq. "We can easily get rid of him if we want to, but not the Brotherhood, which will cling to power."
Brotherhood supporter Amin Sayed said he had planned to boycott the vote, but changed his mind after the rulings this week of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
"I came to vote for the Brotherhood and the revolution and to spite the military council," he said outside the same polling centre in Imbaba, a stronghold of Islamists. "If Shafiq wins, we will return to the streets."
(With Agency inputs)