After decades of authoritarian rule, Egyptians are for the first time freely choosing their first president since last year's ouster of longtime ruler and close US ally Hosni Mubarak.
Voters lined up as polls opened across this nation of 82 million.
Polling stations in Cairo (Photo: AFP)
"I can die in a matter of months, so I came for my children, so they can live," a tearful Medhat Ibrahim, 58, who suffers from cancer, said as he waited to vote in a poor district south of Cairo. "We want to live better, like human beings."
Thirteen candidates, who include Islamists, liberals and Mubarak regime figures, are contesting the election. No outright winner is expected to emerge from the two-day vote starting Wednesday. So, a runoff between the two top finishers will be held June 16-17. The winner will be announced on June 21.
"It's a miracle," said Selwa Abdel-Malik, a 60-year-old Christian from the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria as she was about to vote. "And it's a beautiful feeling too."
Egypt's next president will be the nation's fifth since the monarchy was toppled following a 1952 coup that ushered in six decades of de facto military rule. Like his three predecessors - Anwar Sadat, Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Mohammed Naguib - Mubarak has a military background.
Many of the candidates in the race have called for amendments in Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which most Egyptians continue to view as their nation's number one enemy. Though none will likely to dump the pact, a victory by any of the Islamist or leftist candidates could mean strained ties with Israel and a stronger backing for the Palestinians in the peace process.
No outright winner is expected to emerge from the two-day vote starting Wednesday. So, a runoff between the two top finishers will be held June 16-17. The winner will be announced on June 21.
The generals who have taken over from Mubarak when an uprising forced him to step down have promised to hand over power by July 1.
The election comes less than two weeks before Mubarak, 84, is due to be sentenced after he was tried on charges of complicity in the killing of some 900 protesters during the uprising against his rule. He also faced corruption charges, along with his two sons, one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa.
"May God help the new president," said Zaki Mohammed, a teacher in his 40s as he waited to vote in a district close to the Giza Pyramids. "There will be 82 million pair of eyes watching him."
Another voter in line, tour agent Salah Ali, said: "We need someone who works more than he talks."
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