After decades of iron-fisted authoritarianism bolstered by sham elections, Egypt's forthcoming presidential poll looks set to take place in markedly different conditions after hundreds of candidates signed up to run for the office.
Registration for the May ballot got under way this week and it seems that Egyptians have responded with the kind of political enthusiasm that was ruthlessly repressed during six decades of dictatorship. Some of the hopefuls, such as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amr Moussa, are already household names.
But some of the other candidates attempting to lead Egypt to a bright new dawn are more surprising. According to electoral officials, they include plumbers, chefs, lawyers and teachers – just some of the 500 people who have taken the initial step of claiming the application papers to register their candidacy. In a country that has had only three rulers since the military coup launched by Arab demagogue Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952, this year's presidential election will mark an unprecedented turn of events in Egypt's modern history. "Under Hosni Mubarak we didn't really have elections," said Karima Kamal, a newspaper columnist. "This is the first time everybody feels it's his chance."
But she noted that given the endorsement conditions for independent candidates, which stipulate that hopefuls should secure the backing of 30 MPs or 30,000 people, it was unlikely that the lesser-known applicants would make a splash.
Previous opinion polls have placed Mr Moussa as the overall front-runner, yet statistics suggest that large numbers of Egyptians remain undecided about who should lead the country. Other leading candidates include: Hazem Abu Ismail, a religious fundamentalist lawyer; Bothaina Kamel, a female TV presenter; and Ahmed Shafik, the former Prime Minister appointed by Mr Mubarak in the dying days of his regime.
The influential Muslim Brotherhood, whose political wing has the largest share of seats in parliament, is not fielding a candidate.