Egypt embraces its revolutionary day of democracy

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Huge turnout and little violence as first poll since the fall of Hosni Mubarak gets under way. Alastair Beach reports from Cairo

Enormous queues of voters turned out yesterday for an election which could eventually remould the Middle East, as Egypt's first democratic ballot in decades appeared to pass off without violence.

Lines stretching for more than half a mile began developing early in the morning as Egyptians emerged in droves for a poll unlike any since the military coup of 1952, which ushered in 60 years of autocracy.

"This is the first step in the road of democracy," said Farouk Hamdi, 27, a lawyer voting in Shubra, an area of northern Cairo where large numbers of Christians live. "There is a very difficult road ahead but I am positive about the future."

For the past few weeks, the streets have been alive with the kind of electoral energy unthinkable in the time of the former President, Hosni Mubarak, or his predecessors.

Egyptians have spent years living through predictable, pre-wired elections. But yesterday voters were presented with a choice of more than 55 political groups competing for the 498 seats in Egypt's lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly.

Neighbourhoods were festooned with posters and banners advertising the campaigns of more than 6,600 candidates, with politicians from the hard left to ultra-conservative religious right aiming to claim seats. The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to be the biggest winner, fulfilling a decades-old ambition of rising to power after years of persecution by successive regimes.

A huddle of girls in headscarves standing outside a polling station in northern Cairo told The Independent why they would be voting for the Freedom and Justice Party, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood established after Mr Mubarak was deposed.

"They will be better than the other parties at running the country," said one of the girls, before she was shooed away by an older woman. Another voter in Shubra, Mohammad Sobhi, a retired army officer, said he too would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. Sitting in a teahouse with a newspaper folded on his lap, the 62-year-old said: "Islam has a solution to every problem in the world."

Before yesterday's poll there were fears that the first round of voting could be marred by abuses reminiscent of Mubarak's time. Human rights groups criticised media coverage of the parties in the run-up to the ballot. According to Mona Nader, of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights, the agenda of state-run newspapers such as Al-Ahram has been biased against a slew of new, secular parties that have emerged since Mubarak's fall. "These papers totally ignored the liberal parties," she said.

Others criticised the choice of judges who were selected to oversee the election process. "They are the same judges who monitored the last elections," said Bassem Samir, of the Egyptian Democratic Academy, referring to the widely discredited parliamentary poll of 2010.

But with tens of thousands of troops dispatched to polling stations across the country, there were few reports of serious violence – a far cry from previous elections when mobs of baltagi, or hired government thugs, disrupted the process.

Yet the road remains dangerously uneven. Activists still have their stranglehold on Cairo's Tahrir Square, demanding from their tent city that the Military Council immediately hands power to an interim civilian government.

"The elections are fake. They are bullshit," said Mohammad Habib, 37, in central Cairo yesterday. "It's not right to kill us and then ask us to vote," he added, referring to recent unrest in which dozens of protesters were killed.

Elections to Egypt's lower house are not due to end until January, while voting for the Shura Council, the legislature's upper house, will not conclude until March.

The contenders: Egypt's political parties

Freedom and Justice Party

Widely predicted to be the biggest winner of the parliamentary poll, the party, led by Mohammed Morsi, was established by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned under the former regime. It says it is seeking a constitution that respects Muslims and non-Muslims; it calls for gender equality, but says women must strike a balance between family duties and public life.

Al-Wafd

The oldest party in Egypt, led by businessman Al-Sayyid al-Badawi, right, was once at the forefront of liberal politics as one of the few opposition parties licensed by Mubarak. It now faces a challenge from the emergence of many other, younger liberal parties, and was criticised for its participation in 2010's sham elections. Formerly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is now running independently. It advocates a liberal economy with a strong public sector.

The Free Egyptians Party

The main liberal counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood, it believes in establishing a civil state, a position opposed by Islamists. The party, founded by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, above, has leaders including Hani Sarie-Eldin, a former chairman of the Egyptian Capital Market Authority. It advocates free-market policies, the separation of state and religion, ending class inequalities and expanding the middle class.

Al-Nour

This was the first party set up by Salafists, who follow a strict interpretation of Islam. It wants sharia law and advocates freedom of expression, an independent judiciary and stronger local government. It also wants job creation through small and medium-sized firms, and banks to use Islamic financing that avoids charging interest. Pictured above is candidate Nada Abo El-Maty.

Jenny Stevens

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)