Daytime temperatures soared into the mid-30s Celsius (mid-90s Fahrenheit) as Egyptians voted in the most important election of the Arab spring. Excitement was palpable as state media provided blanket coverage of a largely peaceful process and urged citizens to do their duty.
"The People regains its free will" and "Egyptians in the queue for democracy" were among newspaper headlines as the country's 51 million-strong electorate enjoyed the extraordinary novelty of choosing a new leader without knowing the result in advance. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, leading a monitoring mission, praised the conduct of the vote.
State TV broadcast pictures of General Sami Enan, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, visiting polling stations and repeating the military's pledge to hand over power to a civilian president by the end of June.
"We are confident that Egypt's next president will be Mohammed Morsi," said Essam al-Arian, a senior Brotherhood official. "These elections are being followed not only by Egyptians and Arabs, but the entire world is waiting with bated breath for the results." Moussa's campaign office also put Morsi in the lead.
Analysts say one likely permutation is a run-off between Morsi and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, the Brotherhood renegade and independent Islamist. In the past few days, there has also been a surge of support for Hamdeen Sabbahi, the independent Nasserist candidate.
"The run-off will be very intense whatever the permutation is," said Hani Shukrallah, the veteran commentator on al-Ahram newspaper. "And whoever gets elected will be walking into a minefield."
Only isolated incidents of low-level violence were reported; but the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights recorded violations in the form of bribes being offered on behalf of Morsi, Shafiq, and Abul Fotouh. There were claims of votes being sold and, according to election monitors, a Morsi supporter distributed meat, sugar beans, lentils and oil to voters in Qena governorate.
Polling stations stayed open for an extra hour to boost turnout, apparently below the 60% mark achieved in parliamentary elections earlier this year. Counting was conducted at the stations in the presence of candidates' representatives, the media and NGOs to avoid the risk of fraud.
The result is only due to be announced officially next Tuesday, but Egyptian media was expecting to be able to report the outcome overnight based on computer data and statements by campaign representatives.
Voters admitted they faced tough choices. Hamada, a Cairo hairdresser, told al-Ahram he would vote for the "corrupt" Shafiq to protect his livelihood.
"We don't want an Islamic state, although we believe in the revolution. We need a force to counteract the Islamist-dominated parliament … we need someone to secure our jobs, to allow our wives to walk in the streets and help us raise our children safely.
"I know he's a thief, corrupt and a liar but who isn't? The two Brotherhood candidates [Morsi and Abul Fotouh]? Of course not! And Sabbahi won't reach the second round. I'll lose my job if an Islamist becomes president because my job will be forbidden. Our revolution has been stolen."
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Middle East Editor Ian Black, reporting from Cairo, Egypt, in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/24/egyptian-presidential-election-amr-moussa