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Egyptians go the polls

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Egyptians go the polls

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 Cairo— Voting began on Monday in Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising nine months ago.
The ballot is a milestone many Egyptians hope will usher in a democratic age after decades of dictatorship.
In the nine months since a revolt ended the ex-president’s 30-year rule, political change in Egypt has faltered, with the military apparently more focused on preserving its power and privilege than on fostering any democratic transformation.
But the vote has already has been marred by turmoil in the streets, and the population is sharply polarized and confused over the nation’s direction.
Still, the vote promises to be the fairest and cleanest election in Egypt in living memory. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized group, along with its Islamist allies are expected to do well.
About 17 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the first two-day phase of three rounds of polling for the lower house.
Voters stood in long lines outside some polling centers in Cairo well before they opened at 8 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET), a rare sign of interest in political participation after decades of apathy created by the mass rigging of every vote.
“We are very happy to be here and to be part of the election,” said Wafa Zaklama, 55, voting for the first time in a parliamentary election. “What was the point before?” she asked.
“I am voting for freedom. We lived in slavery. Now we want justice in freedom,” said 50-year-old Iris Nawar as she was about to vote in the district of Maadi, a Cairo suburb.
“We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them too,” said Nawar, a fist-time voter.
Tents of protesters demanding an immediate end to army rule still stood in Tahrir Square, but after heavy overnight rain, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt was far from crowded.
In the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek, some 500 voters waited in line outside a polling station at a school. Shahira Ahmed, 45, was there with her husband and daughter. Like Nawar, Ahmed had never cast a ballot before.
“I never voted because I was never sure it was for real. This time, I hope it is, but I am not positive. The most important thing is to have a liberal and a civilized country, I mean no fanatics,” she said, alluding to the Islamists, who hope their domination of the next parliament will bring them closer to realizing their dream of creating an Islamic Egypt.
Many parties have been set up in recent months after Mubarak’s ouster. Under the former president, polls were routinely rigged and his National Democratic Party repeatedly secured sweeping majorities in parliament.
The first phase of voting Monday and Tuesday includes Cairo and Alexandria. The staggered voting system means the election to the lower house will not be completed till January 11. Voters pick a mixture of party lists and individual candidates.
Oppressed under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties stood aloof from those challenging army rule, unwilling to let anything obstruct elections that may open a route to political power previously beyond their reach.
It is not clear whether voters will punish them for that or whether the Brotherhood’s disciplined organization will enable its newly formed Freedom and Justice Party to triumph over the welter of lesser-known parties and individuals in the race.
A high turnout could throw up surprises, perhaps revealing whether a silent majority favors stability or the radical overhaul demanded by the youthful protesters who overthrew Mubarak.