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Historic day as Egyptians taste true democracy

By Alistair Beach

Egyptians made history as millions queued up outside polling stations for a presidential election which many are hoping will end more than five decades of successive dictatorships.

As ordinary Egyptians turned out to cast their ballot, it was clear it is still very much an open race to elect a successor to Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by the last year's revolution.

Around 50 million people are eligible to vote in the poll, the first genuinely democratic presidential election in the nation's history. But the stakes could not be higher. Victory for any of 13 candidates will pose serious questions about the future of a country which Egyptians like to call "the mother of the world". The victor will have to contend with a military establishment that is reluctant to cede privileges to any future civilian administration.

"I feel great, but at the same time I'm very worried," said Mohamed Shiha, an estate agent whose ambivalence epitomised the nagging anxieties which many Egyptians harbour. "I am a liberal and I think Egypt needs a liberal president. We cannot give all the powers to the Islamists."

Egypt's new parliament is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, once a rigidly disciplinarian force but increasingly divided between a conservative leadership and a more reformist elements. Its presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, is considered one of the main frontrunners because of the Brotherhood's popularity.

Mr Shiha said he was voting for Amr Moussa, the former Foreign Minister under Mubarak whose campaign has appealed to many voters growing wary about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Moussa, cast as the front-runner in a series of opinion polls, is a secular candidate whose criticisms of Israel made him so popular that in 2001 he had a hit song penned about him.