CAIRO — In an historic first, Egyptians voted Wednesday for their next president, choosing from an array of competing candidates whose wildly divergent campaign platforms pledged everything from revolutionary, religion-based change to a return to the stability of the Hosni Mubarak-era, which came to an end with Mubarak’s ouster last year.
As had been the case in the weeks leading up to the election, there was no sense of a front-runner in interviews at the polling places — and hints that the results could be surprising.
In poor Cairo neighborhoods, where residents might be expected to pick Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, many voters instead said they had cast ballots for Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander who was Mubarak’s last prime minister.
Afaf Mohammed, 45, who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood during the parliamentary elections, was among those who’d switched allegiances to Shafik. “He’ll bring better security,” she said.
Hamdeen Sabahi, who espouses the Arab nationalist philosophy of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a distant fourth, appeared to be many voters’ preference in some parts of the country.
At a polling place in Luxor, in southern Egypt, 38-year-old Reham Abdel Gawad, wearing the all-encompassing black shroud of the most fundamentalist Islamists, said she’d voted for Sabahi, a secularist, because she felt he showed the most empathy for Egypt’s poor.
“The veil is on my face, not my mind,” she said, explaining her decision to break ranks. “Not all Islamists are good for the country. The preacher is a preacher, and the politician is a politician.”
Emotions were high among the thousands who formed long lines around schools that served as polling centers. Some said they could not believe they were choosing a president in a free and fair election after 30 years of living in fear and forced silence. Some tapped the plastic ballot box as they dropped their ballot in and said the beginning line of an Islamic prayer, before walking out of the room, with an inked forefinger indicating a vote.
Others expressed long-held rage. As Shafik left the polling center where he cast his ballot, voters pelted him with shoes.
Some saw the vote as the start of real reforms while others voted simply to be a part of the experience.
If there was a pattern in the balloting it was that younger voters appeared later at the polling stations. Officials extended voting hours from 8 to 9 p.m. to accommodate the late voters.
Where the parliamentary elections last fall were riddled with violations that included parties electioneering outside polling stations, Wednesday’s voting seemed remarkably routine, though allegations of misconduct, impossible to verify, swirled. There were accusations various parties’ supporters had entered shops to persuade people to vote. There were also reports that five election judges were forced out of their jobs in Sinai because they told voters how to vote, though the country’s elections commission later denied that.
More common violations appeared to be election workers misinterpreting how to apply the rules.