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Egyptians Vote President To Succeed Mubarak


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Egyptians are voting today to pick a replacement for the ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The run-off between his last prime minister and an Islamist candidate comes just two days after a high court dissolved the first freely elected parliament in Egypt. Now, that ruling cast a shadow over the historic polls. Many Egyptians now seem to question whether their revolution last year that was supposed to bring them democracy has been in vain. We join NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who is outside a polling station in Cairo. Soraya, thanks for being with us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Yeah, good morning, Scott. I'm very happy to be here.

SIMON: What's it look like?

NELSON: Well, very empty compared to last time, which was last month when we had the first round of elections. I think people are relatively depressed. Certainly, this one voter that we spoke to, a banker named Iman Ismail, says she was casting her vote reluctantly.

IMAN ISMAIL: People are very frustrated, but I never thought after a year and plus we'd have the choice between these two guys. It's very sad, very sad.

NELSON: She, like many here, are particularly frustrated with having to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

SIMON: Well, help us understand why a lot of Egyptians find that a discouraging choice.

NELSON: Well, Mohammed Morsi was sort of a last-minute candidate. When his predecessor was ousted by the election commission, the high election commission, for having served time in prison, that made him a non-valid candidate. So, this guy sort of came out of the woodworks here. Morsi was the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. So he was never well-liked to begin with. And then you have Ahmed Shafiq, who is the last prime minister of Mubarak, a retired air force general, who is very close with the ruling junta. And so the feeling is these people are not at all representative of this revolution that swept Mubarak from power last year.

SIMON: Mr. Shafiq almost didn't get to run until the high constitutional court gave him the OK to do that this week. Tell us about that.

NELSON: Yeah, this was the second attempt basically to try and get him off the ballot. The Islamist-dominated parliament had passed a ban that prevented people who served in Mubarak's regime in recent years from running. And the high constitutional court overturned that ban and then went ahead and actually dissolved the parliament, which is creating quite a bit of controversy here. Basically, what's happened now is the stage is set for the military to assume legislative power if in fact Mr. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, wins the presidential election.

SIMON: I gather, Soraya, that many Egyptians view what happened as what amounts to a kind of military coup by the high constitutional court. And I'm wondering if you're seeing any increased military presence on the streets.

NELSON: We were told there would be many more military folks out, and we have not seen that nor really an increase in the police officers. But what is a little bit chilling is the fact that the justice ministry this past week passed a decree that basically allows both military police officers and intelligence agents to arrest any civilians they see fit, you know, basically on sight. So, it's sort of a return to the state of emergency law that was much hated and existed, and recently had actually been lifted. And we're back to that environment. But we're now actually seeing a huge presence on the streets today.

SIMON: When can results be known, do you think?

NELSON: Well, officially it's supposed to be on the 21st of June. But if last month or the first round was any indication, we will start getting unofficial results from the candidates' camps as early as within a few hours of the polls closing, which is tomorrow night. So, by early next week, we probably will know who is the next president of Egypt.

SIMON: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson outside of a polling station in Cairo. Thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.