CAIRO — Arwa el-Hussein, a 20-year-old pharmacy student, has been quarreling with her father for weeks, trying to get him not to back Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister for president.
“This is a betrayal of the revolution,” she says of support for Ahmed Shafiq, a veteran of the regime that last year’s uprising sought to topple. “I get depressed when I think about it.”
Egypt’s landmark election for a new leader, in which voting took place for a second day Thursday, has brought out a generation gap in many families around the country, with elders looking to old, known faces and their children yearning for something new.
The result is a lot of squabbles and shifting alliances around dining room tables and in front of living room TVs showing endless candidate interviews. El-Hussein said she managed to sway her mother to “vote for the revolution,” but her father successfully won one of her brothers over to the Shafiq side.
“We will have a second revolution if the feloul win,” mom declared.
For the young, a new face is a way to pay a debt to the revolution and bring a change in the entrenched ways of Mubarak’s autocracy. Without last year’s uprising, they argue, Mubarak would never have ceded the power he had held for 29 years and the doors never would have opened for the first real competitive presidential election in Egyptian history.
Many of their parents, however, crave stability after 15 months of painful transition since Mubarak’s fall, with street violence, collapsed security, a battered economy, surging food prices and rising crime rates.
The thrill of the unknown adds an edge to the debates: This race is wide open.
Out of 13 candidates, five have emerged as the most prominent, but none has pulled clearly ahead. Final results of the first round are to be announced Tuesday. If, as expected, no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top candidates will enter a June 16-17 run-off, with the victor announced April 21. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess even who those top two will be.
Nearly a quarter of Egypt’s population of 82 million is between the minimum voting age of 18 and the age of 30. The generation gap is not cut and dried — every candidate boasts young supporters, and some elders will wistfully say it is time for new blood — but it does appear to be a factor, and it cuts across the polarization between Islamists and secularists.
Many of the young were turning to two “outsiders” among the front-runners. One is Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a moderate Islamist whose inclusive platform has won him the support of some liberals, leftists and even some minority Christians. Abolfotoh is himself something of a rebel, having split with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The other is Hamdeen Sabahi, an activist who claims the pan-Arab, socialist and nationalist legacy of former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. He’s the youngest of the front-runners, at 57.
Many of the older generation have looked to well-known faces rooted in Mubarak’s era. One is Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister, who was booted out of office by street protests several weeks after his former boss. Another is Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s foreign minister for a decade before become Arab League chief.