Egypt faces more uncertainty following the weekend poll, even as the cadre of generals that has ruled the country since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, moved to consolidate legislative and executive power.
Hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, took to Tahrir Square early Monday, after the brotherhood claimed a win in the divisive election. But Morsi's rival, Ahmed Shafiq, denied that he'd lost the election and the commission that is overseeing the vote warned that the race was tight and said a winner would not be declared until Thursday.
Meanwhile, Egypt's ruling military generals issued a surprise constitutional declaration which awarded them sweeping powers over nearly every aspect of Egyptian governance, from the legislature, to the national budget. If permitted to stand, the declaration would further enshrine the military's position at the top of Egypt's chaotic political heap and might reduce the president to little more than a figurehead.
Choice between bad and worse
As they stood in lines outside of polling stations beneath a withering summer sun, many Egyptians admitted that they were voting out of a sense of duty, rather than any affinity for either of the candidates. "This is not what I'd hoped for," said a physician who cast her vote in Cairo's wealthy Zamalek neighborhood. The woman kept her voice low and refused to give her name because, she said, she intended to cast her vote for Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and feared retaliation in the event of a win by Ahmed Shafiq. "You know how [Shafiq] will bring security?" she asked. "By closing our mouths. Putting us in prison.This is the security. No democracy. No freedom."
Morsi and Shafiq emerged as the finalists after a first round of voting that included 13 candidates. Their ascendance surprised many Egyptians who expected that less divisive candidates would fare better in the polls. "For me, Shafiq's history, you just don't trust the guy and with Morsi, I don't believe in the Muslim Brotherhood," said Farida Omar, a Cairo voter who said she considered voting a responsibility but was not pleased with either candidate. Omar said she intended to spoil her ballot.
Early exit polling suggested a tight race in which Shafiq dominated Cairo, while Morsi fared better in rural areas.
Shafiq, the last Prime Minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak, positioned himself as a hardline law and order candidate and repeatedly spoke of his intention to crack down on protesters.
Many Egyptians are exhausted by months of pitched street battles that have frightened away foreign tourists and plunged Egypt's economy into a downward spiral.
"I can walk in the streets without being kidnapped or something else happening," said 23-year-old Amira Hussein, when asked what she hoped a new president might offer her. The young woman called the Egyptian revolution "wrong," and said she was voting for Ahmed Shafiq because he was the closest candidate to Hosni Mubarak.
Under Mubarak's iron-fisted 30-year reign, incidents of violent crime were low and even with a population approaching 20 million, Cairo was known as a safe city. Now, violent crime is on the rise. But Shafiq's hardline stance failed to appeal to voters who viewed him as an extent of Mubarak's corrupt reign. "I want changes in Egypt, not the Mubarak regime," said 55-year-old engineer Adel Abdel Ati. "I'd like to try something new - maybe it will be better."
Military consolidates power
The announcement that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) would consolidate its influence with a constitutional declaration that awards it broad powers of governance, came as a disappointing surprise to observers and progressive Egyptians who say the SCAF's recent political maneuvering amounts to little more than a soft coup.
Last week, Egypt's Supreme Court dissolved the country's democratically elected parliament on technical grounds, four months after the Islamist-dominated body was seated. But even as analysts balked, only a small percentage of Egyptians expressed any outrage over the dissolution of parliament and on voting day many said they'd seen little evidence that the parliament had accomplished anything during its time in office. "Egypt has very respectable courts and judges and people must respect law," said Rami Greiss, a Cairo ophthalmologist who would only say that he was "voting for Egypt."
Others expressed hope that new parliamentary elections might allow Egypt's activist movement, which formed the backbone of the initial uprising, but has so far failed to form a coherent political opposition, the time it needs to organize politically.
On the whole, the elections seemed to illustrate that many Egyptians have lost the optimism and even reverence with which they once greeted the revolution.
"The revolution is not over," said 19-year-old university student Mohammed Abdel Rafat, as he surveyed an empty Tahrir Square on Saturday afternoon. A march aimed at protesting the dissolution of parliament had drawn only a few dozen activists the night before and in the afternoon heat, most had abandoned the square. Asked who he was voting for, Abdel Rafat said he didn't like either of the candidates and he wasn't going to bother.
Author: Noel King, Cairo
Editor: Rob Mudge