- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CAIRO — More than 15 months after autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptians streamed to polling stations Wednesday to freely choose a president for the first time in generations.

Waiting hours in line, some debated to the last minute over their vote in a historic election pitting old regime figures against ascending Islamists.

A sense of amazement at having a choice in the Arab world’s first truly competitive presidential election pervaded the crowds in line.

At the same time, voters were fervent with expectations over where a new leader will take a country that has been in turmoil ever since its ruler for nearly 30 years was toppled by mass protests.

Some backed Mubarak-era veterans, believing they can bring stability after months of rising crime, a crumbling economy and bloody riots. Others were horrified by the thought, saying the “feloul” — or “remnants” of the regime — will keep Egypt locked in dictatorship and thwart democracy.

Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, saw their chance to lead a country where they were repressed for decades and to implement their version of Islamic law. Their critics recoiled, fearing theocracy.

“You can’t tell me, ‘Vote for this or else you’re a sinner,’” Wael Ramadan argued with an Islamist-backer in line at a polling station in the impoverished Cairo neighborhood of Basateen.

“We never said that,” protested the man.

“Yes, you did,” Mr. Ramadan shot back.

“The revolution changed a lot, for good and bad,” Mr. Ramadan, a 40-year-old employee at a mobile phone company, said afterward. “The good thing is all this freedom. We are here and putting up with the trouble of waiting in line for electing a president. My vote matters. … Now we want a president who has a vision.”

Thirteen candidates are running in Wednesday and Thursday’s voting. The two-day first run is not expected to produce an outright winner, so a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held June 16 to 17. The winner will be announced June 21.

About 50 million people are eligible to vote. Turnout appeared moderate, and Wednesday’s vote was extended an hour.

An Islamist victory will likely mean a greater emphasis on religion in government. The Muslim Brotherhood, which already dominates parliament, says it won’t mimic Saudi Arabia and force women to wear veils or implement harsh punishments like amputations. But it says it does want to implement a more moderate version of Islamic law, which liberals fear will mean limitations on many rights.

Many of the candidates have called for amendments in Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which remains deeply unpopular. None is likely to dump it, but a victory by any of the Islamist or leftist candidates could mean strained ties with Israel.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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