Egyptian voters' choice of extremes
Egyptians going to the polls to elect a president freely for the first time in the ancient nation's 5000-year history faced a daunting choice yesterday between a general from the old guard and an Islamist who says he is running for God.
A win for either Ahmed Shafik - the last prime minister of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak - or Mohamed Morsy, a US-educated engineer who will try to turn Egypt into an "Islamic democracy", will decide the outcome of the wave of Arab Spring demonstrations last year.
"We have to vote because these elections are historic," said Amr Omar. "I will vote for Morsy . even if it means electing the hypocritical Islamists, we must break the vicious cycle of Mubarak's police state."
Turnout at polling stations in several areas seemed lower on Saturday than during the first round. Polls reopened at 8am yesterday and were due to close at 9pm.
With no opinion polls allowed, it was impossible to predict who will emerge the winner. Both men have wide support, but many voters have stayed away, unhappy at a choice of extremes after centrist candidates were knocked out in the first round.
A sample of voter comments suggested many had put aside doubts about Shafik, whose campaign has gained momentum since he entered the race as an outsider.
A court dissolved Egypt's new parliament late last week, enraging Islamists, who held a sweeping majority in the assembly. They also decried the coup by the military rulers, who pushed Mubarak from power 16 months ago to appease the street protesters.
A win for Shafik, 70, might prompt claims of Mubarak-style vote-rigging, and street protests by the Islamists and the disillusioned youths who made Cairo's Tahrir Square their battleground last year.
Both candidates promise to honour the spirit of last year's mass revolt against rampant corruption, poverty and a hated police force. But many Egyptians who voted for neither of the present candidates in the first round last month see a contest that smothers hopes for change.
Morsy's campaign suffered a blow when he failed to rally support from candidates who lost in the first round. To sceptics of the Brotherhood, it confirmed that the Islamist movement was too zealous and inflexible to represent the majority of Egyptians.
"I will vote Shafik because I don't want anybody to impose on me a model of life that I don't accept," said health ministry employee Marianne Mallak, 29.
"I don't want somebody to rule the country in the name of religion."