- (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)
Egypt held its first parliamentary elections on Monday since the ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak nine months ago in the Arab Spring protests that have engulfed and transformed the region.
An unexpectedly large number of Egyptians turned out to wait in long lines for the milestone elections that are set to be the fairest elections the country has witnessed in decades.
Egyptians will be able to choose from dozens of political parties and thousands of independent candidates. However, Egypt’s largest and most organized political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is poised to win a large proportion of parliamentary seats.
Monday's vote will be the first round of voting to decide who will sit in the upper and lower houses of the Egyptian Parliament. The lower house of Parliament will be responsible for drafting a new Egyptian constitution.
Polling stations were guarded by police and army guards to prevent violence from breaking out. There have thus far been some reports of irregularity with regards to polling stations. However, violence has not been reported.
Around 50 million people are eligible to vote. However, some Egyptians are opting to boycott the elections arguing against the legitimacy of the current ruling military council and calling for their exit.
The lead up to the elections has been highly volatile, with bloody demonstrations over the past two weeks having caused 42 deaths.
Although significant, there is no assurance that elections will result in a decrease in violence and uncertainty and many analysts hold that election-related violence is likely to ensue.
On Sunday, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi of Egypt's ruling military council urged Egyptians to vote in the elections, saying, “Egypt is at a critical crossroads. It either succeeds, or Egypt will face dire consequences.”
Demonstrators in the country have expressed fear that the military council will attempt to maintain its hold on power even when elected officials take office.
The ruling council has said that presidential elections will be held by June 2012. However, demonstrators are reluctant to believe the military will easily relinquish power, especially considering its Sunday declaration that “the position of the armed forces will remain as it is – it will not change in any new constitution.”
Some Egyptians are holding out hope that the elections will be the first step towards a more open and free Egypt.
One first-time voter told CBS news, “I am voting for freedom. We lived in slavery. Now we want justice and freedom.”
“We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them, too,” she added.