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Elections in Egypt

On Wednesday, the two days of presidential voting began in Egypt, its first free presidential election since it came under dictatorship 60 years ago. The winner will succeed Hosni Mubarak, one of four rulers toppled in the uprisings that began 18 months ago across the Middle East in a pro-democracy movement that became known as the Arab Spring. Egypt has been ruled by the military during this tumultuous transition, and there have been fears that they might try to cling to power.

About 850 people died during the January 2011 revolt and there have been frequent eruptions of violence ever since. Egypt has seen its lowest economic growth rate in at least a decade, its foreign reserves are down almost 60% and the International Monetary Fund is unwilling to lend $3.2 billion until politicians can agree on an economic policy.

Two rival Islamists, two former ministers from the government of Mr. Mubarak, and a Nasserite socialist are running against each other.

As the election began, there was no permanent Constitution to set the president’s duties and powers, and many questions remained on how much power would be retained by the military. Many Egyptians have expressed concern both about the Brotherhood and about the fact that the only viable alternatives may be candidates with links to Mubarak-era governments. Youth groups that played a key role in the uprising in 2011 have stated that a win by a former official may bring them back to the streets.

Nevertheless, the election was greeted enthusiastically by Egyptians, who generally viewed the opportunity as crucial, being their first chance to choose a leader to influence Egypt’s path for decades to come.

The authorities have declared Thursday a holiday in order to allow public sector workers to vote. If no candidate gets an outright majority, there will be a run-off between the top two contenders on June 16 and 17. Final results are expected on June 21, and the military council that took power after Mubarak’s fall has declared to hand over power by the end of the month.

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