Retired pharmacist Makhmoud Mokhtar after voting in central Cairo, Egypt, June 16, 2012. (Y. Weeks/VOA)
Retired pharmacist Makhmoud Mokhtar after voting in central Cairo, Egypt, June 16, 2012. (Y. Weeks/VOA)

CAIRO - Voting in Egypt's presidential election got off to a slow start Saturday, the first of two days of balloting to select either an old guard candidate, an Islamist, or neither one.
Former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi offer Egyptians a stark choice. For some, like retired pharmacist and Shafiq supporter Mahmoud Mokhtar, the decision was easy.

"He has a vision for Egypt, for the future, from all aspects, in a very simple, straightforward way," Mokhtar said.

But that vision, which includes Shafiq's promise of a return to law and order, seems to some to be a call for a return to the past. At the same polling station in central Cairo, the choice was equally clear for Morsi backer Khaled Maher.

“I am one of the sons of the revolution, and I am against the former regime," Maher said. "And I always see that the country's interests are with the Brotherhood.”

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At times, the voting seemed less a contest of who people want as president than who they don't. In the first round of elections last month, Egypt's minority Coptic Christians voted overwhelmingly for Shafiq, many pointing to their fear of an Islamist leader. Coptic priest Mena Gergis, casting his ballot in the capital, declined to say whom he was choosing, but made his preference apparent.

“We support a civil state, certainly,” Gergis stressed.
Round 2

The mood appeared less joyful than it was in the first round, with its field of 13 candidates and seeming wide-open possibilities.  The remaining two are in many ways the most polarizing, perhaps reflected in what appeared to be a light voter turnout.   

A campaign urging voters to spoil their ballots picked up steam in recent days - a bid to show disapproval for both candidates.  Others are simply boycotting the election. Non-voter Ramadan Hassan, near a voting station along the Nile, expressed his disappointment.

 "This was not at all our aspiration when we made the revolution [last year]. We wanted change - real change," Hassan told VOA.

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No progress

Sixteen months after the uprising, the lack of progress is clear.  Egypt is still without a constitution, which would define presidential powers. And on Thursday a controversial court decision dissolved the country's parliament.  Cairo University professor Hassan Naffaa blames the ruling military council for mishandling the transition, dragging it out while consolidating its position.

"I would say that we are heading to another transitional period. I don't know how long it will take and how it will be managed. But it is very much unclear," Naffaa said.

Despite problems and disillusion, some voters Saturday simply buckled down and went to the polls. Standing in the women's voting line outside her polling station, translator Iman Zaid said she really didn't want to vote for either candidate.
"But then I decided, no, I have to look in a more objective way to the things and the situation," she explained. "I should be more active in choosing what I want."
The announcement of the winner is set for Thursday, but unofficial results are expected early in the week.

* Follow our special election team coverage live from Egypt. Click HERE to see the latest stream.

Davin Hutchins' photos from Cairo

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