Egyptians choose new president


Egypt began voting on Saturday in a divisive presidential runoff pitting ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak’s last premier against an Islamist, two days after the top court ordered parliament dissolved.

Some 50 million Egyptians are eligible to cast ballots in the two-day election, which sees Ahmed Shafiq vying for the top job against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi.

Long queues had already formed outside some voting stations before the polls opened at 8:00 am (0600 GMT), with police and army deployed outside, according to AFP reporters.

“I will vote for the one who will guarantee security and safety for our community,” said Makram, a Coptic Christian voter, from a polling station in the Shoubra neighbourhood.

Over in Manial, an island in the Nile, a crowd that included veiled and unveiled women waited to cast their ballots.

“I’m voting for Mursi because I don’t want Shafiq to win. I’m scared of Mursi but I’m more scared of Shafiq,” said Nagwan Gamal, 26, a teaching assistant.

The voting comes against the backdrop of two controversial court rulings on Thursday, allowing Shafiq’s candidacy to proceed despite his role in the old regime, and invalidating Egypt’s elected parliament.

The difficult choice of candidates has garnered support for the boycott movement, which was largely ignored in the first round, with celebrities and high-profile activists calling on Egyptians to abstain or void their ballot.

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Others believed boycotting would waste a historic opportunity.

“Everyone should participate in the election. I don’t believe in boycotting,” said Diana Adel, 26, in Manial.

“I think it will be fair, and I do think it will be historic because we’re choosing a president ourselves,” she said.

The winner will be the first freely chosen president in Egypt’s history and will succeed Mubarak, who was forced from office by a popular revolt last year and turned power over to the military.

Activists said the court rulings were the final phase of a military coup that takes the democratic transition back to square one.

“Back to where you were,” read a huge red headline in the independent daily Al-Shorouk after the Supreme Constitutional Court said certain articles in the law governing parliamentary elections were invalid, annulling the Islamist-led house.

It also ruled unconstitutional the political isolation law, which sought to bar senior members of Mubarak’s regime and top members of his now-dissolved party from running for public office for 10 years.

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