Egypt votes in first post-Mubarak elections
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

Egyptians are voting in the opening stage of the first elections since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

As dawn broke, people were already queuing to cast their ballots outside polling stations in the capital, Cairo.

But protesters who want the vote to be postponed still occupy Tahrir Square.

The head of the country's military council, which took over after Mr Mubarak was unseated, has said the country is "at a crossroads".

"Either we succeed – politically, economically and socially – or the consequences will be extremely grave and we will not allow that," Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in a statement on Sunday.

He urged top presidential candidates Mohammed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa to give their support to his nomination for prime minister, 78-year-old Kamal Ganzouri.

Monday's voting begins an election timetable which lasts until March 2012.

The first stage of the poll, running until January, covers elections to the 508-member People's Assembly.

For Egypt's military rulers the decision to press ahead with these elections was a gamble – taken in the anxious days last week when demonstrators were dying in hails of buckshot under clouds of tear gas on the streets of Cairo.

The early indications from polling stations in and around the Egyptian capital is that the gamble has a real chance of paying off.

Long, orderly queues began to form two hours before the official start of voting – an indication of the appetite for democracy here pent-up under decades of autocratic government. At one polling station it was 800m long.

The new parliament is likely have a strong Islamist bloc led by the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal groupings and some reconditioned relics of Hosni Mubarak's old party.

Over the last nine days there has been a revival of the protest movement which forced Mr Mubarak from office, with hundreds gathered at its hub, in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

At least 41 protesters have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded as tensions flared in recent days.

The protesters fear the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) – which is headed by Field Marshal Tantawi and is overseeing the transition to democratic rule – is trying to retain power.

"We reject any resolution taken by the military council – except for the handover of power to an authority that we approve. Then we will be making the decisions in Egyptian politics," said protester Samira Hosni.

Mass demonstrations – in Cairo and beyond – had called for military rule to end before parliamentary elections were held.

There have also been smaller gatherings expressing support for the country's interim military rulers.

'Dangerous hurdles'

On Monday morning the numbers in Tahrir Square were small, while queues were forming outside polling stations in the city before they opened at 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT).

"It was no use to vote before. Our voices were completely irrelevant," one woman in central Cairo told the AFP news agency as she went to vote for the first time in her life.

Another first-time voter said she was "voting for freedom". "We lived in slavery. Now we want justice in freedom," Iris Nawar told AP news agency.

"We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them too."

Analysts say the voting procedure is complex and there has been little time for campaigning, so it is unclear how many people will cast ballots.

There are some 50 million eligible voters in the country who will choose candidates from 50 registered political parties.

The new parliament is likely have a strong Islamist bloc led by the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal groupings and some reconditioned relics of Hosni Mubarak's old party, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Cairo.

The system is so complicated and protracted that there will be no results until March, he adds.

In a separate development early on Monday, a pipeline in Egypt which supplies Israel and Jordan with natural gas was attacked by saboteurs, Egypt's Mena state news agency said.

Witnesses reported seeing masked men driving away from the pipeline, close to the town of Arish, before two blasts were heard. It is the ninth such attack on the pipeline this year.

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