Cairo: In an atmosphere clouded by part confusion and part despair, Egyptians flocked to the polling booths on Saturday to chose between an Islamist and a Mubarak-era leader as their next President, who will assume power in a state of political uncertainty.
With the ruling military council reasserting its control over the legislative process by moving to formally dissolve the recently-elected Parliament in line with a court order, there was much uncertainty around the political future of the country.
Moreover, the powers of the President remain undefined in the absence of a constitution and a parliament, which has been dissolved under controversial circumstances.
The Egyptians are choosing between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, and the deposed president Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a choice not many are happy with.
Polls opened early in the day, and will be open till Sunday evening, in a run-off that comes after a deeply polarising first round that saw a close fight between Morsi, Shafiq and the Leftist candidate Hamdeen Shabahi.
While Morsi and Shafiq made it to round two, the choice has left the country's revolutionaries who were at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak movement in quite a despair.
While Morsi has tried to portray himself as the candidate of the revolution, Shafiq, who arouses deep feelings of hatred in a section of the population, has promised to bring back the stability of Mubarak's time to a country growing weary of protest.
However, the fact that the run-off has come days after a shocking Supreme Court ruling that declared the Parliament election unconstitutional on certain grounds, has lent fresh uncertainty to the country's politics.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) formally moved to dissolve Parliament on Friday, and told MPs they were not allowed to re-enter the building, Al Jazeera said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) controls the largest bloc in Parliament, has said it will not immediately accept the court's ruling that dissolved the Parliament.
Mohamed el-Beltagy, a senior FJP politician, called the rulings a "fully-fledged coup" on his Facebook page.
Saad al-Katatni, the Parliament speaker, plans to hold a session next week to discuss the decision.
The high court had ruled that some provisions of the electoral law, which allowed political parties to compete with independent candidates for some seats, violated the Constitution.
Whoever wins, will take up the President's position in a situation where his powers have not been spelt out in the absence of a Constitution, and complete uncertainty over the Parliament. Official results are expected on June 21.
In the absence of a Parliament, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces holds both legislative and executive power, nullifying the process of transition to democracy.
The Brotherhood warned that the court's decision would undo the gains of the revolution and push Egypt into "dangerous days".
Egypt's electoral commission today extended polling by an hour on the first day of voting and polling stations will now close at 9:00 PM local time (0030 PM IST).
More than 50 million voters are eligible have been called to choose between ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi to succeed president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising last year.
The turnout was observed to be far lower than in the first round. Some reports attributed it to the high temperatures.
Egyptians appeared frustrated at the position of things, and some called the choice between Morsi and Shafiq as chosing between having to die of cancer or HIV.
The fear of an Islamic government is what is worrying many people now as most of the revolutionaries too are grudgingly opting for Morsi over Shafiq.
Egyptians, who came out on the streets in millions to demand for democracy last year, are now debating whether their country has changed for better or worse.
Many of them believe another wave of protests is in the future.
A court is expected to hear a petition next Tuesday seeking dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood. If it does, then this will be a repetition of what happened back in 1954.
Top figures in Washington have expressed concern over the Egyptian Supreme Court's ruling to dissolve the elected parliament and other political events in Egypt in recent days.
"The recent decision by the Egyptian court obviously throws into question the future of the transition," said Senator Patrick Leahy in a statement on his website.
"Parliament has been dissolved and the military has reaffirmed martial law and has assumed whatever authority the Parliament had," said Leahy who chairs the budget committee for the State Department and foreign aid and operations, and is the author of the new conditions on US military aid to Egypt.
In addition to the court verdict, Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid announced on Wednesday that military police and intelligence officers have been granted the same powers as judicial police when dealing with civilians suspected of offenses relating to national security and public order, which has been largely seen as an extension of the much-hated emergency law that existed under Mubarak.
These procedures will be in place until a new constitution was approved, Hamid said.
The State Department said separately that it was "troubled" by the court ruling ordering Parliament dissolved and was looking into its implications.
First Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012, 18:29