Egypt's military rulers claimed victory Tuesday after the surprisingly heavy turnout for the first elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, calling it proof of popular support for their democratic transition plan. Long lines formed at polling stations for a second day of voting.
The turnout boosts the military council after protests that erupted on Nov. 19 in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other cities, denouncing the ruling generals and demanding they transfer power immediately to a civilian authority. At times, the protests drew more than 100,000 and a crackdown by security forces more than 40 people over nine days.
One year on, the Arab Spring continues
Maj. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said the vote for a parliament "responds to all those who were skeptical that elections will take place on time." He called the turnout "unprecedented in the history of the Arab world's parliamentary life."
Another member of the ruling military council said on Tuesday that he expected total turnout in the first stage of Egypt's landmark parliamentary election to exceed 70 percent.
"There is no actual or definitive estimate, but I assure you that, until now, it will go above 70 percent. I hope it will reach more than 80 percent by the end of the day," General Ismail Atman told Al Jazeera television.
The head of Egypt's election commission, Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim, said earlier Tuesday that turnout was "massive and unexpected" with millions participating peacefully in a spirit of hopefulness that surprised many after new protests broke out in the days leading up to the vote.
Initially on Tuesday morning it seemed fewer voters would turn out than the day before. Nadin Halad, a volunteer at one of the polls, told Haaretz he believed many Egyptians would skip elections either out of wariness that the army would tip the results, or simply to enjoy their day off.
The historic election - which promises to be the fairest and cleanest in Egypt in living memory - will show whether the country that is one of America's most important Middle East allies will remain secular or move down a more Islamic path as have other nations swept up in the Arab Spring.
"I am voting for this country's sake. We want a new beginning," said Zeinab Saad, 50, who brought her young daughter to a polling station in Cairo. "It's a great thing to feel like your vote matters."
The voting process, long and complicated, is staggered over the next six weeks across 27 provinces, divided into thirds with runoffs held a week after the first round in each location.
Voters have to pick two individuals and one alliance or party slate - a mechanics that has left many among the 50 million eligible voters puzzled and apparently still undecided.
While the overwhelming majority spoke with excitement over getting to cast their ballot, a few headed to the polls to avoid a 500 Egyptian pounds ($85) fee imposed by the ruling military on absent voters. In some of the country's populous districts, younger voters dragged their elders to make sure they would not have to pay the fine.
"I am voting here just because of the 500 Egyptian pounds," said Walaa Mohammed, a 33-year-old office employee, adding she didn't think the lines outside polling stations would not be so long if it were not for the fine.
In the Menshiya neighborhood in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, long separate lines of men and women waited patiently in front of polling stations, where the ground was littered with Muslim Brotherhood fliers as activists campaigned into the last minute, whispering to voters to pick their candidates.
Islamist parties, which had all been officially licensed after Mubarak's ouster, are expected to make big wins in the three-round elections that run through until January 10.
The new parliament will be tasked with setting up a committee to draft a new constitution before the presidential election by the end of June.
Egypt's military rulers and Islamists both called Sunday on Egyptians to go to the polls for the country's first election since former president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow, as thousands of protesters gathered in central Cairo for one more rally against the junta.
The head of the ruling military council, Hussein Tantawi, pledged that parliamentary elections, scheduled for Monday, would not be postponed and would be taking place amid "maximum security."
He also warned that the army would not allow "any tampering'" with the elections.
Tantawi agreed at a meeting with key politicians on Sunday to create a civilian council to advise the military during a transitional period that he pledged to end by July.
The turnout Monday, the first voting day, was massive despite security concerns and turmoil over a deadly spate of violence in the week before the balloting. It reflects the Egyptians' determination to break away from the past after 10 months of frustration over how the military rulers who took over from Mubarak have been handling the transition.
According to reports, nearly half of Egypt's polling stations opened late on Monday, or had still not opened to the public by mid-morning. It was not clear what caused the delay.
Long lines formed at the polling stations that did open, with some Egyptians getting ready to vote for the first time in their lives. At a polling station in a local school in Cairo’s Zamalek neighborhood, 500 people were standing in line.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now