Pessimism amid Egypt presidential election

(CBS News) CAIRO - Egypt's first free presidential election is headed for a run-off. Voters will choose between Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, a veteran of Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime. But some Egyptians are pessimistic about the potential for change either way.

For the first time ever this past week, millions of Egyptians went to polls believing the simple act of voting could make a difference -- by bringing to power a president truly chosen by the people.

The activist Aiman Nour wasn't one of them. "One person cannot bring down the system, so electing a new president will not bring down the system," he said.

"The system" is Egypt's ruling military government, which critics accuse of serious and ongoing human rights violations.

Less than a month ago, for example, soldiers shot and beat protesters demonstrating because their presidential candidate had been disqualified. Three hundred and fifty of them were eventually dragged off to jail.

Amr Sarhan was among them. A barber, he was the main breadwinner for a large family. It took them days to discover what had happened to him and where he's now being held.

"He's a broken man," said his brother Khaled. At the military police headquarters, Amr was first sprayed with sewage water, then electrocuted with cattle prods, and beaten.

It's this kind of abuse that Aiman Nour was fighting to abolish when CBS News caught up with him last year. He was one of the leaders of the mass movement that forced out ex-President Hosni Mubarak.

Back then, no one wanted to believe the army would take over and rule in exactly the same dictatorial way.

"We've been constantly stabbed in the back by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces," said Nour. "We are still being beaten, we are still being killed during peaceful demonstrations, we are still being arrested and we are still being put on military trials."

So Aiman Nour opted out of casting a ballot last week and won't join in electoral politics until the military has been brought under civilian control.

But the Sarhan family opted in. They did vote, they explained, in the hope that even if they can't pry Amr out of the hands of his military torturers, the new president can -- and will.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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