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Egypt’s open presidential race polarizes nation

Exit polling suggests Muslim party candidate qualifies for runoff spot

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CAIRO — Egypt's wide-open presidential election, which was in its second day of voting Thursday, is showing how deeply polarized the nation has become, with backers of rival Islamists and former regime figures each vowing they cannot let the other rule.

The impact of their rivalry goes beyond the key question of who gets to rule Egypt for the next four years.

An Islamist president will mean a more religious government, while many fear a figure from Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime occupying the land's highest office would keep Egypt locked in dictatorship and thwart democracy.

The two candidates that inspire the most polarized opinions are Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest political group, and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister, who was ousted from office by street protests several weeks after his former boss.

In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, the mother of a young businessman who was beaten to death by policemen in 2010 warned of a "second revolution" if one of the "feloul" — a member of the Mubarak regime, such as Mr. Shafiq — is elected.

The killing of her son, Khaled Said, helped ignite the uprising against Mr. Mubarak last year.

"I don't feel that my son has received justice," Said's mother, Laila Marzouk, said Thursday after she voted for Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist candidate who is a favorite among revolutionaries. "If one of the feloul of Mubarak's regime wins, another revolution will start and I'll be among the first to take part."

Besides Mr. Shafiq, the only other Mubarak regime figure running is Amr Moussa, who served as foreign minister for 10 years before he became the Arab League chief in 2001.

Resentment of the old regime and its symbols runs deep in some of Cairo's poor neighborhoods.

In the Dar el-Salam district, piles of festering trash sit outside polling centers, and residents complain that their lives have taken a turn for the worse since last year's uprising because some of the basic services, such as trash collection and traffic policing, have disappeared — some suspect deliberately.

"The municipality is not functioning, trash collectors are not working and there are no traffic policemen out on the streets," said Ahmed Abdo, a 51-year-old minibus driver. "The old regime is still here and is fighting back … They want us to regret that we revolted."

His friend Ismail Eid, 43, agreed. "So long as the new president is backed by the poor, we will be his protectors. We will crush whoever tries to get in his way."

Both Mr. Shafiq and Mr. Morsi repeatedly have spoken of the dangers, real or imaginary, of the other becoming president. Mr. Morsi has said there would be massive street protests if a "feloul" wins the vote. They can win only if an election is rigged, he warned.

Mr. Shafiq, for his part, has said it would be "unacceptable" if an Islamist takes the presidential office, echoing the rhetoric of Mr. Mubarak, his longtime mentor who devoted much of his 29-year rule to fighting Islamists. Still, Mr. Shafiq's campaign has said it would accept the election's result.

The two-day election is not expected to produce an outright winner. If no one gets at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff June 16-17. The winner will be announced June 21.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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