Mabrouk Marqous Mikhail
--LEAD IN --
The polls have closed Saturday on the first of two days of voting in Egypt's presidential runoff.
The election pits Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister -- against The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.
The stakes are high -- the future of Egypt's hard-won revolution rests in ballots cast this weekend amid political chaos.
CNN's Ben Wedeman visited Cairo polling stations and registered the mood of voters as they argue who is best to lead Egypt.
--REPORTER PKG-AS FOLLOWS --
EGYPTIANS ARE GETTING USED TO THE RITUALS OF ELECTIONS…
"Just like last time." SAYS THIS WOMAN, DIPPING HER FINGER IN THE INK.
BUT VOTING HAS YET TO BECOME ROUTINE…
DESPITE SOME CONFUSION, THERE IS PALPABLE PRIDE IN THE PROCESS.
IN WITHERING HEAT, WOMEN VOTERS WAIT PATIENTLY OUTSIDE THE ROAD AL-FARAG PREPARATORY SCHOOL IN THE MIXED MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN SUBURB OF SHOBRA.
LESS THAN A MONTH AFTER THEY LAST WENT TO THE POLLS, EGYPTIANS ARE BACK FOR THE SECOND AND FINAL ROUND OF VOTING IN THE COUNTRY'S FIRST POST-REVOLUTIONARY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS…
SALWA WANTS TO POSE FOR THE EVENT…SHE TELLS ME SHE'S VOTING FOR FORMER AIR FORCE COMMANDER AHMED SHAFIQ BECAUSE, SHE SAYS, HE'S A SWEETHEART AND WILL FIX THE COUNTRY.
SEVENTY-YEAR OLD SAMIRA WOULDN'T SAY WHO SHE'S VOTING FOR…BUT IT'S CLEAR WHOM SHE DIDN'T VOTE FOR.
"I want a civil state." SHE SAYS.
SO IF YOU WANT A CIVILIAN STATE YOU DON'T WANT THE GUY WITH THE BEARD, I ASK, MEANING MOHAMED MORSI OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD.
"No, my dear, I don't want the guy with the beard, do you?: SHE ASKS.
AT ANOTHER NEARBY SCHOOL, MEN CAST THEIR BALLOTS…NOTABLY ABSENT ON THE BALLOT ARE ANY OF THE LIBERALS OR REVOLUTIONARIES WHO RAN AND LOST IN THE FIRST ROUND...
...AND THE STARK CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TWO CANDIDATES CAN SPARK HEATED DEBATE.
BUSINESSMAN HUSSAIN MAHMOUD VOTED FOR THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD'S MOHAMED MORSI. HUSSEIN DOESN'T WANT SOLDIERS, SERVING OR RETIRED, TO LEAD EGYPT.
"They consider themselves superior to other humans." HE TELLS ME. "They're used to giving orders and those below carrying them out without discussion. All military institutions everywhere are like that."
HE IS INTERRUPTED IN MID-SENTENCE BY MABROUK MIKHAIL, A COPTIC CHRISTIAN AND FORMER ARMY OFFICER. HE SUPPORTS AHMED SHAFIQ, AND INSISTS RELIGION MUST STAY OUT OF POLITICS, POURING CONTEMPT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE RECENTLY DISSOLVED PARLIAMENT.
"Frankly the Brotherhood failed in parliament." HE SAYS. "They were a farce and nothing good came of them. Ahmed Shafiq is the best man to represent this country, without fanaticism, with wisdom."
HE SAID ALMOST ALL EGYPTIANS SHARED HIS OPINION…TO WHICH MANY OF THOSE LISTENING STRONGLY OBJECTED…
DEMOCRACY MAY BE IN ITS EARLY STAGES HERE, BUT DEBATE IS BOOMING.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN, CAIRO
-- NEW: The Muslim Brotherhood rejects the dissolution of parliament and calls for a referendum
-- Egyptians are voting Saturday and Sunday in the first free presidential election
-- The polling takes place when Egypt has no constitution or parliament
-- The election pits Islamist Mohamed Morsi against Ahmed Shafik, a symbol of the Mubarak regime
Egyptians choose new president amid political chaos
By the CNN Wire Staff
CAIRO (CNN) -- The presidential runoff election in Egypt this weekend pits an Islamist against a symbol of Egypt's former dictatorial regime: the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik.
And there was a third option as polling began Saturday: boycott.
The stakes are high -- the future of Egypt's hard-won revolution rests in ballots cast this weekend amid political chaos. Egypt has no constitution and now, after a shocking court ruling, no parliament. It was declared invalid Thursday and dissolved Friday.
The Muslim Brotherhood rejected Saturday the dissolution of parliament as a dangerous step taken by the military and called for another referendum on the matter."
"We are calling for a referendum again on the dissolving of parliament and see it as the logical thing to do especially after 30 million people went to the polls the first time and the country spent over 3 billion Egyptian pounds in a transparent electoral process," said Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Brotherhood.
Many Egyptians have expressed fears that their revolution is unraveling; that the military, long the central nerve system of Egypt, will never relinquish power.
"I was planning to boycott the elections because I feel neither candidate represents the Egypt we wanted, but my family convinced me," said Yousef Hamad, a retired English professor in central Cairo, who would not reveal how he voted.
"These next two days will shape Egypt's history," he said. "I am standing in the long line to vote for the more experienced candidate who will hopefully save Egypt's economy before it completely collapses."
The excitement of being able to choose in a land that has not known free presidential elections before could not be underestimated. But that choice, for some, came down to the lesser of two evils.
Farouq Magdy supported Hamdeen Sabahy, a candidate who didn't make the runoff. Now, after the constitutional court's ruling and the recent release of six former Interior Ministry officials, he felt the military council was asserting its authority.
That's why Morsi, he said, was "the better of two choices."
But hotel manager Mohammed Ali said a majority of his staff was voting for Shafik.
"We need security and we want to recover economically," Ali said. "Not because Shafik is a great option, but let's say he is the best of the worst."
Still, other voters said they could not stomach a vote for a man who's a remnant of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, ousted by people power in February 2011 after decades of autocratic rule.
"I will be voting for Mohamed Morsi because the country needs real change," said Mohammed Zain, who lives in Egypt's second-largest city of Alexandria.
"We deserve a new direction," he said. "We have no problem if Shafik wins but we fear that this will lead to instability. The country doesn't need that."
Or consider these two differing opinions:
"I do not trust anyone with a beard. So I am voting for Shafik," said fast-food shopkeeper Kamaal. That's a reference to Morsi, a conservative Muslim with a beard.
But jeweler Mohammed Ahmed recalled Shafik say on television last year that he would personally guarantee the safety of protesters at Tahrir Square. When it didn't happen, the least he should have done was resign, Ahmed said.
"I am voting for Morsi because I feel Shafik has betrayed Egyptians last year when he was Mubarak's prime minister," he said.
The runoff follows a May election that failed to produce a winner with a clear majority.
The polls opened at 8 a.m. Saturday. Farouk Sultan, head of Egypt's Presidential Election Committee, announced that polling hours were extended by an hour to 9 p.m. The polls will open again Sunday morning.
Votes must be counted by Monday, with final results expected Thursday.
No one knows how much power Egypt's new president will wield. A constitution that will define his role has yet to be drafted and a new round of parliamentary elections has not yet been scheduled.
But one thing is clear. Morsi or Shafik will report directly to Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the powerful military leaders who have been ruling Egypt de facto since Mubarak's departure.
"The people who believed in parliament elections were let down and their votes didn't mean anything, which angers me," said Ahmed Nassar, a Cairo graduate student.
Some disgruntled voters launched a campaign to invalidate ballots, said Mohamed Ghoneim, the founder of a group that marked X on the names of both Morsi and Shafiq, thereby nullifying their vote.
Political scientist Amr Hamzawy wrote a newspaper article on the boycott.
"There are different kinds of political and psychological blackmail taking place these day against citizens who have already made up their mind and decided to boycott the presidential runoff elections," he wrote.
"I register my intention to revoke my vote by refraining from voting for any of the rival candidates, and also place on record my respect for the rules of electoral competition and I will respect the result as long as the electoral process was characterized by integrity, and absence of fraud."
Prominent journalist Bilal Fadl attacked Muslim Brotherhood members for months for an alleged lack of performance in the parliament they dominated. But now, he has changed his mind.
"Do you still think it is better to give your voice to Ahmed Shafik so he can become the first Egyptian president since the revolution?" Fadl wrote.
"That's the revolution for which hundreds sacrificed their lives ... under the political responsibility of Shafik. Would you give your voice to someone who got his legitimacy from his being anti-revolution or give it to someone who is pro-revolution but only differs with you (in approach)?"
These are questions pondered by 50 million eligible voters this weekend; the biggest perhaps, is what happens next.
"I voted for Shafik because I don't want Egypt to become Iran," said Cairo taxi driver Taher Fathi, showing off his purple ink-stained finger as proof that he voted.
Others said they'd had enough chaos for now.
"I feel that the most organized entity in this country is the military," said Mostafa Awad, a retired general. "They will do justice in restoring the rule of law."
Despite tensions, Saturday's polling was mostly calm, said Gen. Mohsen Mourad, head of security in Cairo.
There are the usual problems -- like campaigning outside polling stations and attempts to influence voters -- but Mourad said he received no reports of violence.
The Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission has approved licenses for 53 organizations to observe the elections, including at least three international groups -- the U.S.-based Carter Center, the South Africa-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and the Arab Network for Monitoring of Elections.
Though anger festered over the court's ruling on the parliament, Cairo's streets remained relatively quiet compared with the popular demonstrations in February 2011.
CNN's Amir Ahmed, Saad Abedine, Moni Basu, Ivan Watson, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Ben Wedeman and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.
MIDEAST EGYPT ELECTIONS PRESIDENTIAL ELEX MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD MOHAMED MORSI FORMER PRIME MINISTER AHMED SHAFIK