Egyptians vote on second day of historic election
Egyptians continued to cast ballots across the country on Thursday as voting in the country’s historic presidential election entered a second day. Twelve candidates are vying to succeed Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular revolt last year.
Unreliable opinion polls make the outcome of the vote hard to predict, but it has come down to a contest between various rival Islamist and secular figures.
This vote was unthinkable before the popular uprising that led to the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for 30 years.
“We must prove that the times when we stayed at home and someone would chose for us are over,” 27-year-old Islam Mohamed told Reuters news agency as he queued to vote in Cairo.
After months of unrest and violence, election day was relatively peaceful with no reports of vote-related bloodshed but soldiers and police were on standby across the country to protect polling stations. Independent election monitors also reported that there were no major reports of abuses.
Out of Egypt’s population of 82 million people, 50 million are eligible to vote for one of 12 candidates. Polling stations will remain open until Thursday evening with initial results expected on Sunday.
Candidates are banned from campaigning during the 48 hours of voting but, according to AFP news agency, many continued to give interviews denouncing their rivals.
The election takes place amid ongoing tensions over the country’s political future after Mubarak was ousted in February 2011. Despite the enthusiasm for the vote, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Cairo, Gallagher Fenwick, described a certain level of anxiety due to some of the candidates’ divisive politics.
Apprehensions about the vote emerged early on after the election committee declared that 10 candidates were ineligible to run.
Potential front runners include liberal former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is largely seen as a vestige of the Mubarak-era because of his role as foreign affairs minister under the fallen leader; and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a one-time member of the influential Islamist Muslim Brotherhood who has striven to rebrand himself as a leader who can unite Islamists and liberals.
The other two potential favourites on the ballot include Ahmed Shafik, who once served as a senior commander in the Egyptian Air Force, and Mohamed Mursi, who came late to the race as the Muslim Brotherhood’s reserve candidate after their first choice was disqualified.
A key player in Egypt’s political arena, the Muslim Brotherhood has come under criticism for its conduct in the run-up to the poll. Months ago, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – which has strong ties to the movement - announced it had no intention of putting forward a candidate for the presidency, after sweeping up the largest number of seats in the country’s January legislative elections.
The party later backed Mursi as its candidate, saying it had it reversed its stance because of the number of former Mubarak supporters running in the race. The decision was criticised by some as hypocritical.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has been in parliament since the end of January and has yet to achieve anything significant. Their behaviour could be characterised as rather immature”, Karim Chazli, president of the organisation Egyptian Students in France, told FRANCE 24.
“For example, they refused to pass legislation prohibiting members of the former regime from high level government positions. They’re more reformists than revolutionaries”, Chazli added.
Chazli’s comments echo frustrations felt by many in Egypt’s ongoing protest movement, which has held a number of mass demonstrations against the country’s military rulers and feels that the uprising that ousted Mubarak hasn’t gone far enough.
“Egypt will be able to begin transitioning once there is a pro-revolution candidate as head of state”, Chazli said before admitting that “the views held by those protesting at Tahrir Square don’t necessarily reflect the general public opinion in Egypt”.
An unpredictable race
With opinion polls proving to be an unreliable source of information, it is hard to clearly gauge how voters intended to cast their ballot, if at all. While some may be undecided, others seem to regard the pool of candidates with a certain level of mistrust.
“Several of the candidates, particularly Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh and Ahmed Shafik, can appear a bit shady”, Chazli said. “Voters don’t really have a clear picture of who they are”.
According to Chazli, lack of trust and indecision contribute to the race’s unpredictability. “Up until recently, Egyptians haven’t really been politically active – they never had to choose a position, whether it was left or right. The way people intend to vote could very well change at the last minute”, Chazli said.
While the vote count is scheduled to be completed two days after the polls close, the official results will not be released until May 29, at which point the country will discover if there is an outright winner or whether there will have to be a second round of elections in mid-June.