Egypt readies excitedly for historic election

Amr Moussa, Egypt
An excited supporter greets Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa on his campaign bus.
CBS News

(CBS News) CAIRO - History is about to be made in Egypt. A country that's been run by pharaohs, kings, and dictators will hold its first free presidential election Wednesday. It will mean a lot to America's role in the Middle East.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports something Egyptians have never seen before is a real presidential candidate and a genuine political race that has huge implications for the Middle East

One candidate, Amr Moussa is a former Egyptian foreign minister under Ex-president Hosni Mubarak, he was a diplomat well known in Washington.

"Our worst enemy is poverty," Moussa told a crowd of farmers at a rally.

Moussa, now 75 years old, stands in contrast to other devoutly religious candidates on the campaign trail. He's running on a secular platform, telling CBS News he is not even bothering to try an appeal to the religious in Egypt.

Even in this majority Muslim country, his strategy may pay off. One fan forced his way onto the bus to tell Moussa: "Those fundamentalists are driving us crazy! You'll make a great President!"

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In some cases, the enthusiasm or, you might say, frenzy is for the candidate himself, but some is just the excitement of a real democratic choice after 30 years of dictatorship under Mubarak.

All Egypt has been gripped by the drama of this election. People are talking of little else; whether to vote for the old guard or the new, and crucially, whether to vote for an Islamist candidate or not like Dr. Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. He used to lead the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, banned under the old regime and believes in Sharia law based on the teachings of the Koran.

But Abolfotoh is an Islamist with a modern twist. He quit the Brotherhood to run as an independent to attract the broadest possible support.

"We need to bring together all Egyptians," Abolfotoh said through a translator, "to achieve real democracy."

At a rally in Cairo, Abolfotoh didn't just talk about a broad base, he paraded it. On stage, his inner circle included fundamentalist Muslims, Christians, sports idols, women and a pop singer who launched into the national anthem, all joined by a crowd desperate to believe that tolerance can repair their battered country.

As for the man who ruled Egypt for 30 years, after Mubarak stepped down a year and a half ago now, he was charged with killing protesters in Tahrir Square. He's been on trial for many months. He showed up on the courtroom in February on a stretcher. He's said to be ill. A verdict in his case is said to be coming next week.