Egypt goes to the polls at last -- but deaths cast shadow
The lines of patient voters stretching along the banks of the Nile were a stark contrast to what passed for elections in the long years of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's toppled dictator.
Gender segregated but calm and cheerful, they testified to the enthusiasm with which people embraced the country's first credible parliamentary elections for more than half a century.
There was no denying it was a momentous occasion, but the day lacked a sense of history. Perhaps that was because there are still 11 days of voting, stretched out over three months, before the make-up of the two chambers of Egypt's parliament is fully decided.
But it was also surely because those who rewrote Egypt's history, the protesters who gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo for 18 days to topple Mr Mubarak, have shown such ambivalence.
For the past 10 days, many have been back in the square to protest against Egypt's generals, accusing them of stifling freedom and trying to preserve their clout. The deaths of more than 40 people have also cast a shadow.
"I'd like to say today is the beginning of a new era, but I'm not so sure," said Ahmad Hawas. "What we do know is that if the process is subverted, we will be back in the square, no question."
The protesters' stance has divided the country. "I completely trust the army," said Amal Nour, an English teacher. "There's a huge difference between Mubarak and the army."
At the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), there was a mood of quiet confidence. There now seems little doubt that an organisation that has been repressed for so long is about to sweep to victory.
But a middle-aged voter called Said al-Ghazal put the most important question to Mohamed Morsi, the FJP's head, after asking what the party could do for Egypt.
"Our first priority is the promotion of democracy and liberty," Dr Morsi said. "Next is the promotion of jobs, and reform of the education system."
Yes, Mr al-Ghazar replied: "But this is all theory. Can they actually do something to solve Egypt's problems?" (© Daily Telegraph, London)