Egypt votes in final round of historic presidential election


An Egyptian election official counts ballot papers at a polling station in Cairo on May 24, 2012 after polls closed in the country's landmark presidential election.


Marco Longari

CAIRO, Egypt -- Many Egyptians today have ink-stained thumbs for the second time in a matter of weeks, having returned to the polls to elect the successor to ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak in a highly-anticipated final vote. 

The runoff, held today and Sunday, pits powerful Mubarak ex-minister Ahmed Shafiq against Mohammed Morsi of the influential Muslim Brotherhood.

It comes two days after Egypt's Supreme Court dissolved parliament, a move that plunged the country into political turmoil and cast new confusion on the role of the new president in a nation stripped of a legislative body and lacking a constitution. 

Nonetheless, polling stations opened bright and early at 8 a.m. today and are set to close at 8 p.m. Turnout is not expected to be over 50 percent due to likely voter exhaustion, according to the Associated Press, or possibly because many Egyptians do not feel enthusiastic about either candidate. 

More from GlobalPost: Egypt: The revolution continues

A small group of Egyptians living in tents in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of opposition activity that helped overthrow Mubarak 16 months ago -- weren't satisfied with either candidate on the ballot today. "No Shafik. No Morsi. Sabbahi," one young man, who identified himself as Amer, told GlobalPost.

Hamdeen Sabbahi, a progressive candidate-turned-dark-horse in the country's first round of presidential elections held in late May, still maintains a loyal following. Many Sabbahi loyalists and hardcore activists who took part in the uprisings in Tahrir Square last year are choosing to either boycott the vote or purposefully ruin their ballot. 

Twenty-one-year-old activist Yasser Sruour, speaking at an upscale cafe in the trendy, upper-class island of Zamalek in Cairo, told GlobalPost he does not intend to vote. "I really think neither of these presidential candidates we're forced to vote for stand for the revolution."

Many activists are frustrated with the results from the election's first round of voting, arguing that both Morsi and Shafiq represent a return to the past because of their links to more established political forces. 

Shafiq, former prime minister and commander in the Egyptian Air Force, tried to counter this by presenting himself as a staunch secularist and man of experience. He campaigned on a platform promising Egyptians greater stability -- an attractive proposal to many voters frustrated by a stagnating economy tied to a year of political unrest. 

"Shafiq, he'll bring tourists here," 20-year-old perfumist Hesni Bedni told GlobalPost at his shop in Cairo today. "He said it on TV!" interjected a relative, 17-year-old Abbas Bedni, who said he was voting for Shafiq because "you need a president you can trust."

"I know Mubarak is not a good person, but when Mubarak was in power, things were working ... when I walked in the streets, I felt safe," said the younger Bedni. "Now I don't feel safe. I'm afraid for my family." The former Egyptian leader was handed a lifetime prison sentence on June 2. 

Mahmud Hassan said Shafiq is "a good president for these days now -- he was a good man from 10 years ago," but added, "maybe after four years [of Shafiq], we'll need a new president." 

As for Mohammad Morsi, the middle-aged hotel receptionist said, "I don't know who he even is."

Although the Muslim Brotherhood has campaigned intensely on Morsi's behalf, the candidate was little-known to most Egyptians even several months ago. 

Others are concerned by Morsi's Islamic identity, apprehensive of a possible Muslim Brotherhood president.

Hassan Mohammed, a young man working at a Zamalek Vodaphone shop, said that he was voting for Shafiq because the "Muslim Brotherhood is not honest with the Egyptian people."

His colleague, Nancy Ali, quickly jumped in. "Mohammad Morsi puts politics under the cover of religion," she said.

To many Egyptians living in a predominantly Muslim country, however, Morsi represents a return to morals, an opportunity to regain national dignity.

One 29-year-old Egyptian voter, who identified herself as Jihan, said she voted for Morsi because he "means a new Egypt after Mubarak, after the revolution." 

"We want to rebuild our country," she said.