Egyptians vote to elect country's next president

MAGGIE MICHAEL and MARIAM RIZK
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Presidential hopeful Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi arrives to a polling site to cast his ballot on the first day of voting in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, May 26, 2014. Egyptians are choosing a new president on Monday in an election that comes nearly a year after the military's ouster of the nation's first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi. The man who removed Morsi, retired military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is practically assured of a victory in the vote, which is being held over two days, Monday and Tuesday.(AP Photo/Lobna Tarek, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians were choosing a new president on Monday in an election likely to be won by the man who nearly a year ago ousted the nation's first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Retired military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is practically assured of a victory in the vote, which is being held over two days, Monday and Tuesday.

The country's most powerful figure since Morsi's ouster 10 months ago, el-Sissi will be looking for a strong turnout — and a landslide win — to show the world that his removal of Morsi was the will of the people.

"The Egyptians are coming out to write their history and chart their future," el-Sissi told reporters after he cast his ballot at a school in the upscale district of Heliopolis. The 59-year-old career soldier, in a suit and tie, was mobbed by supporters and reporters as he arrived at the school.

The only other candidate in the race is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third in the 2012 presidential election.

The balloting is taking place amid tight security, with some 500,000 soldiers and police throwing security rings around polling centers and guarding vital installations across the nation. Egypt has 53 million registered voters. Army and police helicopters hovered over Cairo as part of the massive security operation underway Monday.

Nearly two hours after the polls opened at 9 a.m., there were no reports of major election-related violence.

A crude homemade explosive device was hurled from a passing car at security personnel outside a polling center in a village close to the industrial city of Mahalla in the Nile Delta, but no one was hurt.

By percentage of votes, el-Sissi could win a landslide, but his camp's attention will be more focused on the turnout. A low turnout would show the narrowness of his support in a country that has risen up against two presidents since 2011.

If Sabahi manages to thwart a landslide with a respectable showing, it would be a further blow, showing an existing and active opposition to el-Sissi despite the media hype.

It is too early to gauge the turnout, but lines were formed outside polling centers in Cairo nearly a nhour before they opened. Women brought their children and many in the lines waved Egyptian flags. Some wore T-Shirts bearing the image of el-Sissi, while others chanted "the army, the police and the people are one hand."

"El-Sissi is the greatest person in the world," said Nasser Mehres, a 54-year-old businessman from Heliopolis. "We have absolute faith in the army and the police."

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails, has instructed its followers to boycott the vote. Also boycotting the polls are many of the pro-democracy youths who have participated in the 2011 uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

"Those who are boycotting are not true Egyptian nationalists because they are giving a chance to Turkey and Qatar to tarnish our image," said Mohammed Farouq, a voter from the Cairo district of Kit Kat.

Both Turkey and Qatar have supported the Muslim Brotherhood and have expressed their opposition to Morsi's ouster.

El-Sissi has pledged to bring democracy to Egypt but Morsi's backers say the ouster of an elected president crushed those hopes. El-Sissi's supporters say he saved the country from Islamists while his secular critics fear he will enshrine a Mubarak-style autocracy once more.

Egyptians are desperately looking to have a president who would restore security and revive the economy. Failure to show tangible results could trigger a new wave of unrest that some fear could be even more violent.

"We want security first, then everything else will follow," said Manal Mohammed, a government employee standing in line outside a polling center in Imbabah, a middle-class Cairo district.

Across the road, six armored police cars were deployed outside a police station while the street was sealed off to traffic.