Egyptians began voting freely on Wednesday for the first time to pick their president in a wide open election that pits Islamists against men who served under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. The contest is a novelty for a nation where elections during the 30-year rule of a man some called "Pharaoh" were thinly attended rigmaroles in which the result was a foregone conclusion.
This time, many of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters were already queuing before polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) to determine who would lead the country when the generals who have overseen a transition marred by violence, protests and political deadlock formally hand over by July 1.
Yet some were still unsure who to vote for even as they headed out to cast their ballots.
"I will vote today, no matter what, it is a historic thing to do, although I don't really know who I will vote for," said Mahmoud Morsy, 23, who then said he would probably pick the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Mursi.
Voters were blitzed by three weeks of official campaigning, which ended on Sunday, and Egypt held its first U.S.-style televised presidential debate. Newspapers carried interviews and campaign adverts. Banners and posters festoon the streets.
Although official campaigning was over, candidates made a final push to get out the vote. Half a dozen minibuses plastered with "Yes to Amr Moussa" - the former Arab League chief bidding for office - offered free rides to polling stations.
None of the 12 candidates is expected to get more than half the votes and win outright in the first round on Wednesday and Thursday, and a run-off between the top two is likely in June.
It is the first time that ordinary Egyptians, ruled down the centuries by pharaohs, sultans, kings and military officers, have a genuine chance to choose their leader.
"I have not voted before in my life for a president so the experience is quite new and makes me feel like a citizen of this country," said Ahmed Ali, a student of pharmaceutical studies in Alexandria, Egypt's second city.
Whoever wins faces a huge task to deliver changes that Egyptians expect to relieve a grim economic outlook. The military that was a pillar of Mubarak's rule is likely to remain a powerful political force for years.
Source: Africa News
Pic: All Africa