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


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?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable