CAIRO -- Egyptians returned to the polls Saturday to choose between two runoff candidates in what was supposed to be a buoyant state on the cusp of electing its president for the first time.
But the differences between the two candidates exposed a polarized populace, and a series of decisions by the ruling military council cast what was to be a celebratory day into one that many called a game and not real change.
Gone was the jubilation of last month, when Egyptians picked among 13 candidates in the first round of elections. Instead a patina of resignation and fear hung over the process Saturday as many said they believed that despite calling the events of the last 16 months a revolution, the state created by former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak remains largely intact.
Earlier this week, the ruling military council announced that soldiers could arrest civilians for a broad range of violations, marking the return of martial law just weeks after a hated three-decade emergency law had expired. The next day, the Supreme Constitutional Court, made up of Mubarak appointees, dissolved the Parliament that had been elected last fall on the grounds that some of the lawmakers had campaigned in violation of election laws, a ruling that negated the gains of the Muslim Brotherhood party.
Although the uprising led to both Mubaraks demise and this weekends election, the revolutionaries were left with no favored candidate. Voters chose between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, Mubaraks last prime minister. The ruling military councils power loomed large: It appears they now are in charge of drafting laws, and a judge told the state-owned al Ahram newspaper that in the absence of a parliament, the new president would take the oath before the constitutional court.
This is not in our hands. We have done what we can do, said a man who only wanted to be identified as Rifat, 45, a factory worker, just after he voted for Morsi in Helwan, a poor community in southern Cairo.
Im worried. They said there would be democracy but nothing happened. I hope my vote will count, God willing.
Election day appearances by the candidates suggested that one had the protection of the state while the other had the will of the people. Shafik was heavily guarded and snuck into his polling station through a side to avoid the attack of voters throwing shoes at him as happened last month. Morsi, on the other hand, stood in line like other voters.
Soraya Mahmoud, 62, burst into tears as she considered the prospect of Shafik winning. Mahmoud voted for Morsi in the poor Egyptian neighborhood of Dar Salaam in southeastern Cairo. The stench of trash piles forced some women to use their veils to cover their noses.
God willing, I hope the SCAF will have the same fate as Mubarak. They want to bring back the regime. There is martial law now. Whats going on here? Mahmoud said. The blood of the martyrs will be in vain.
In Cairo and the port city of Alexandria, the turnout as of midday appeared to be much lower than the first round. Where polling stations opened promptly at 8 a.m. last time, election workers on Saturday appeared more lax about setting up stations. At one station, poll workers only checked the identity of women in niqab after they dropped their ballots in the box. At another, a Shafik delegate, ostensibly there to monitor the process, instead took part in it, guiding voters to dip their finger in purple ink to confirm they voted.