A moment of truth for the Arab Spring as 50 million vote in Egypt

Nation's first democratic election brings long queues – and a contest that's too close to call

Cairo

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

Long lines of voters began snaking out of schools and colleges early yesterday morning, as ordinary Egyptians turned out to cast their ballot in what is still very much an open race to elect a successor to Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by last year's revolution.

"This is a new experience for all the Egyptian people," said Abdel Halim, a 52-year-old who was voting in the ramshackle west Cairo district of Imbaba. "We are going to choose a new man to become our leader – and we have never done that."

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 that Egyptians like to call "the mother of the world".

Whatever the result, it will trigger a ripple effect washing over sensitive areas of policy – from the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which Islamist and leftist candidates intend to review, to reform of the police and security services.

And 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 anxieties that many Egyptians are carrying into this election. Mr Shiha was casting his vote in Zamalek, an upmarket island on the Nile where only Cairo's wealthiest residents can afford to live. "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 that is increasingly divided between a conservative leadership and a more reformist elements. Its presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, is considered one of the main frontrunners.

In a show of strength yesterday, microbuses were seen shuttling female Brotherhood supporters to polling stations in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Yet the prospect of the organisation controlling the presidency and parliament has caused alarm among some voters – particularly within the minority Christian community – who fear the growing clout of political Islam.

Mr Shiha said he was voting for Amr Moussa, Mr Mubarak's former Foreign Minister whose campaign has appealed to many voters growing wary about the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Moussa, who has been cast as the frontrunner in a series of opinion polls, is a secular candidate whose robust denunciations of Israel made him so popular that an Egyptian crooner penned a hit song about him in 2001.

Yet his rise – along with that of the former air force chief Ahmed Shafik – has left some voters aghast. Many young activists who helped spearhead the uprising believe the election of a former Mubarak official would be a huge step backwards. "There are people in Egypt who still don't understand the situation properly," Ahmad Sa'ad, a 40-year-old taxi driver, said. "They will just vote for Amr Moussa because he is a good guy."

According to Sama el-Nagdy, a campaign co-ordinator for leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, the popularity of Mr Moussa is a result of bias in Egypt's state media.

"The media tells voters that they won't have a life, or won't have a job, unless they vote for Amr Moussa."

It is a charge disputed by Mr Moussa's campaign team, which also notes that its candidate quit government more than a decade ago.

But millions of voters still remain undecided. Layma Kamel, a consultant for Mr Moussa's campaign, told The Independent that internal polling shows that 30 per cent of voters had still not made up their minds about who to choose.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions