In Egypt presidential poll, fault lines even within families

The first day of voting in Egypt's historic presidential election ended with few reports of irregularities, but evidence of a nation divided over the right choice.

Fredrik Persson/AP
Two women show their inked fingers after casting their votes on the first day of the Presidential election at a polling center in Old Cairo, Wednesday, May 23. More than 15 months since the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians streamed to polling stations Wednesday to freely choose a president for the first time in generations.

After decades with only one name on the ballot, Egyptians chose between 13 names today as they voted for the first president since the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak.

For some, the sudden flood of options meant friendly family feuds about who to vote for. Eman Mohamed, a perky volunteer for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, was one.

“We have three ideologies in my family,” she says. She voted for the Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi. One of her brothers, who follows the ultraconservative strain of Islam known as salafism, voted for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader. And her other brother, a liberal, voted for leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi.

They all tried to convince one another to vote for their preferred candidates – unsuccessfully. “I told my brother, ‘If you vote for Morsi I’ll give you 50 pounds ($8),’” she says, laughing. “He said, ‘Make it 100 and I’ll think about it.’”

Yet despite the number of candidates, the top choices boiled down to proponents of political Islam or figures connected to the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak. And no matter whom Egyptians ultimately choose, he will take up office with no job description, as Egypt’s new constitution has not been written.

Still, some have high expectations for the next president, who will lead a country with a crippled economy, a rebellious and abusive police force, and a military that will likely play politics behind the scenes. “He’s coming to serve the people. He won’t beat us like Mubarak,” says Fouzia Atteya, a teacher. “He’ll give us money to live on, and jobs. He will make things better.”

Election officials extended voting hours by one hour to 9 p.m. as turnout appeared to pick up in the evening in Egypt’s capital. Lines outside polling stations grew as high temperatures dropped and employees finished work. Voting extends through tomorrow.

Reports of irregularities were mostly minor and not widespread, according to observers. Sherif Azer of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, which has 600 observers around Egypt, said the organization was submitting several official complaints to the election commission, including complaints about hundreds of polling stations opening late; illegal campaigning by the campaigns of Dr. Morsi and Dr. Aboul Fotouh; and vote buying from the campaign of Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former prime minister. There were scattered reports of bribes but it didn't appear to be a widespread problem, says Mr. Azer. Mr. Shafiq, meanwhile, was reportedly attacked by angry voters as he attempted to cast his ballot in a suburb of Cairo.

The campaign of frontrunner Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s former foreign minister who left the regime 10 years ago, said its unofficial exit polls showed that Morsi was leading with 31 percent of the vote, while Mr. Moussa had captured 27 percent, and Aboul Fotouh 12 percent. No official results will be announced until next week, and the early release could be intended to influence the vote.

The uncertainty surrounding results is another new experience for Egyptians in presidential elections. For decades, Mubarak held referendums in which his was the only name on the ballot. In 2005, he allowed a multicandidate election for the first time, though it was competitive in name only.

“Those were the days of Mubarak, when we knew who would win. These days, we don’t know,” says voter Um Hashem, as she stands in line to vote in the working-class neighborhood of Shubra.

She can’t predict a winner, especially because nearly everyone in her family voted for a different candidate. "I will vote for one, my sister for another, my sons for someone else,” she says, refusing to reveal who she would vote for. "We sit together at home and discuss the candidates. We like different candidates, but we all want the best for Egypt.”

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