The first truly democratic presidential elections in Egypt will mark the beginning of a new period in the history of the country, Egyptian political experts believe.
Egypt is holding presidential elections on Wednesday and Thursday, 15 months after authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted from the presidential post in a popular revolt in February 2011.
“These are the first direct and truly free and alternative presidential elections in Egypt since the July Revolution of 1952,” said Sayed Hani, deputy editor-in- chief of the state-owned Egyptian newspaper Al Gomhuria.
In the past, Egyptian presidents were either appointed or elected by parliament and approved in a referendum. The first alternative elections were orchestrated by Mubarak in 2005, when he ensured a landslide victory over other candidates.
“The election of the new Egyptian president in direct and free voting will mark the beginning of the Second republic,” Hani said.
The period of the First republic is traditionally counted from the July 1952 revolution, which put an end to the monarchy in Egypt, until present.
Another political expert, professor of political sciences at the Cairo University, Hasan Nafia, believes that the new president will rule the country more democratically than his predecessors as he would have to respect public opinion.
“The president will not be a pharaoh anymore, because the Egyptian people after the events on January 25, 2011, will not allow the restoration of the old system,” Nafia said in an interview with state-owned Nile television.
The current polls also mark the end of the nation's transition from military to civilian rule.
Egypt has been run by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) since Mubarak’s ouster in 2011. The military immediately abolished the constitution and dissolved the parliament, promising to pass the rule to civilian authorities after democratic elections.
During the transitional period, the military set up general elections, which were swept by Islamists. At the same time, they failed to agree the basics of the future constitution with political forces, leaving the country without fundamental law.
Both experts said that differences between various political forces in the country would hamper the adoption of a new constitution in the near future.
“I think we may finally return to the constitution adopted in 1971 and make some amendments that deal with elections and the president’s powers,” Hani said.
More than 50 million Egyptians are eligible to cast their ballots to elect a new leader, and at least two-thirds of them are expected to take part in the vote, according to public polls. In line with Egyptian laws, refusal to go to polls without a reasonable excuse is punished with a $15 fine.
Thirteen candidates, including Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood movement and Salafist parties, as well as secular candidates, are running in the polls. If none of them wins a majority in the first round of the elections, the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff vote next month.
At least 14,500 Egyptian judges and more than 65,000 civil servants will monitor the elections. For the first time in the country’s history, Egyptian and foreign NGOs have also been allowed to send their representatives to observe the vote.
Some 300,000 police and military personnel will be deployed across the country during the vote. Egyptian laws ban both police and army personnel from voting in presidential elections.