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Motivated by fear not hope, a polarized Egypt heads to the polls

Voters will choose between a member of the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

CAIRO -- Egypt's voters, already on edge after more than a year of rebellion and revolution, have been further polarized by Thursday's supreme court decision to dissolve the new Islamist-dominated parliament and allow a former prime minister to run for president.

Many see the decision - taken by judges appointed by deposed president Hosni Mubarak - to let old regime holdover Ahmed Shafiq run in this weekend's run-offs as a soft coup by the ruling military government.  

Others think it as a second chance to wrest control of the parliament from the Islamists. Those who were frightened by Islamists' tremendous political gains since the revolution rejoiced after the court's decision.


"My friends were calling me and congratulating me," said the septuagenarian head of a prominent women's organization who asked to remain anonymous because she does not want to be seen as getting involved in politics. "At last we are done with that parliament.  Any Egyptian on the street is worth more than them."

She didn’t vote in the first election but vows to brave long lines despite a bad knee to cast a ballot for Shafiq tomorrow. 

Others who fear the return of the old regime lamented the court decision. 

Dismay in Egypt as court orders newly-elected parliament to be dissolved

"How can we elect somebody who watched the massacre of protesters and stood by and did nothing?" demanded Aly Ibrahim, a plumber. "The people voted in the parliament. How does the court have the right to overturn the people's decision.  It's not constitutional."

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square on Friday in Cairo, Egypt, after the country's supreme court ruled that the Islamist-led parliament must be immediately dissolved, and also allowed the right of Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to run for president.

Ibrahim is boycotting the vote because he sees the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Mursi, as an academic not a political leader.  But he said many in his blue-collar neighborhood of Al Arab who were also going to skip the election have now decided to vote for Mursi because of yesterday's court decision. 

His comrades are not necessarily going to vote for Mursi because they support him. Instead, their ballot will be an act of revenge against what they see as the ruling military government and their bid to return of the old regime to power through Shafiq.  

Ibrahim predicts violence during the voting, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

"There will be shooting at the polling stations [...] and if Mursi looses, Tahrir Square will be on fire," he said.

Egyptians protest against old regime day before presidential election

In an impassioned televised speech Thursday night, Mursi promised a second revolution if there is election fraud.

"I will pay with the price of my life," he promised. 

Threats?
Many saw Mursi's words as a warning to foment unrest if he loses.  

"Nothing but threats!" said Hanan Askar, housekeeper. "Now you see the true face of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Mursi's promises during the election meant nothing."

"They want to take over everything and we will never get them out," she said.

In Egypt's elections, politics is a new family affair

Askar had planned on boycotting like most people in her low income-district called the Slaughterhouse. 

Now she is going to go cast her ballot for Shafiq. 

In Egypt's rural countryside, typically a conservative Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, veterinarian Abdul Sitar said people were enraged by the court decisions that snatched away the party's victory. 

"Why would they overrule the will of the people," he argued.  "The parliament was chosen by the people." 

Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

Presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood waves to a crowd outside a mosque after attending Friday Prayers in Cairo.

He is going to vote Mursi and said everybody in his area is even more committed to vote him in.   

On her way home to Helwan, an industrial area south of Cairo, a cook said people on her bus were cheering "Shafiq, Shafiq!!" 

She said nobody from her area is voting Mursi because, according to recent media reports, he is physically unfit to serve as president.

PhotoBlog: Egypt court rules Shafik can run in presidential election

The April 6 organization, which played an integral role in helping organize the revolution that toppled the former president, have already called for a march to Tahrir against yesterday's decision and against a Shafiq win. 

The influential revolutionary movement has already endorsed Islamist Mursi to stop the old regime from rolling back whatever gains have been made since they toppled a dictator.  

Nobody can predict who will win as voters go to the polls on Saturday and Sunday to make the hardest choice yet facing their young democracy. 

But one thing is certain -- the future will be anything but boring and turmoil will ensue no matter what the result. 

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