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Egyptians vote amid concerns over future leader's authority

May 24, 2012 |  8:42 am

Egypt-voting

CAIRO -- Egyptians stood in tangled lines Thursday, the second and last day of balloting in a presidential race marked by millions of late-deciding voters and concerns that the new leader will be hampered by an Islamist-controlled parliament and a ruling military reluctant to hand over power.

None of the top five candidates was likely to win 50%. Official results are expected to be released next week and a runoff to replace deposed President Hosni Mubarak is anticipated in mid-June.

Lines at polling stations lengthened in the cool of the afternoon and election observers reported minor irregularities.

About 40% of voters were making their minds up at the last minute, according to polls. The race appeared to be narrowing to Islamist candidates Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and secularists Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafik, the old regime’s polarizing last prime minister who on Wednesday dodged a crowd hurling rocks and shoes when he went to vote.

[Updated at 3:28 p.m.] Exit polls suggested Morsi and Shafik were ahead followed by Moussa, but such projections can be unreliable in a country prone to rumor and conspiracy. Moussa, a former foreign minister, has been a front-runner for weeks. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who had dropped in recent polls, appeared propelled by the Islamist group’s prodigious organizational network and the backing of clerics.

The elation over Wednesday’s first day of voting turned subdued over worries that the president will take office without a new constitution to outline his powers. The ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has indicated that it will amend the existing constitution, a move seen as an effort to protect the army’s interests by limiting presidential authority.

“I don’t trust SCAF and I know that they will want to interfere as much as possible in politics and maintain the last say on all major decisions,” said Mohamed Abou Zeid, a petroleum industry worker who voted for Morsi at a polling station in Cairo. “But Egyptians won't stand quiet if this happens. Egyptians are feeling for the first time ever that their vote counts.”

The next president will have to be “clever and wise enough to gain his full authority bit by bit without confronting the army,” said Mohamed Hussein, who owns a car parts shop. “He needs to keep them at bay without making them angry.”

Many Egyptians warn that the democratic ideals that inspired the uprising against Mubarak last year are in jeopardy. Military crackdowns on protests have led to months of unrest and bloodshed. Young activists have been sidelined and the immediate future appears weighted toward the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls nearly 50% of the seats in parliament, and former regime officials such as Moussa and Shafik.

These fears -- along with concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood would impose strict sharia, or Islamic law, on public policy -- have strengthened the popularity of two candidates: Aboul Fotouh, a liberal Islamist who has reached out to both Christians and ultraconservative Islamists, and Hamdeen Sabahi, a socialist nationalist favored by the cultural elite. 

"I don’t want a remnant from the Mubarak era or the Brotherhood to steal our revolution by winning this election,” said Iman Osama, an architect who voted for Aboul Fotouh. “I'm really dismayed by what I see and hear from some people who want to vote for Shafik or Moussa. SCAF has done a great job confusing people over the past year and triggered many incidents that made people hate anything related to the revolution.”

She added: “I'm so disappointed by people who were fooled and are coming now to willingly vote for someone who will take us backward."

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-- Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan

Photo: Egyptians line up outside a polling station in Cairo on Thursday, the second day of voting in the nation's landmark presidential election. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press

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