Stark candidate choices for Egypt voters

(CBS News) CAIRO - On Sunday night, Egyptians are waiting to discover the identity of their first freely-elected president since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power. As of now, the Arab world's most populous nation is choosing between two political extremes.

What should have been the culmination of one of the most improbable revolutions in the Middle East has turned into a joyless exercise in the mechanics of democracy.

The turnout is expected to be exceptionally low, not least because the choice for voters was stark -- and for many, unsettling.

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Only days ago Egypt's Supreme Court dissolved parliament. That means the military, which has effectively pulled the political strings in Egypt for decades, will write the new constitution, and thus dictate how much power the president wields.

Islamist candidate Mohamed Morsi tried to position himself as a champion of the revolution, but many fear his party wants to create an Islamic state.

"There is absolutely no room for the enemies of the country," Morsi said. "There is absolutely no room for Mubarak's aides."

Rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak's last prime minister and left no doubt that he represents the old guard.

For voter Khalid Hegazy, it was better than the old days of no choice. "Still a lot have to be done," he said. "It's a long journey. You have to start, and we've started, we have to continue."

Many of the youth who fought the revolution in Tahrir Square called for a boycott or spoiled ballots.

"Our problem is not the candidate," said boycotter Ahmed Fouad. "It's the whole process we see that we have no hope to move one step forward to democracy, real democracy."

There were some imaginative results. One ballot paper carries the boycott sticker slogan "Null and void".Another voter wrote: "No offense, but the voice of conscience hurts." And one obviously wishes he could have had Batman rather than the choices on offer.

Ballot counting has already begun, and in a surprise development, 20 minutes after the polls closed, the military council announced has already decided what the constitutional powers of the president will be. Those powers will be announced Monday.

  • Allen Pizzey

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