NBC's Richard Engel reports from Cairo, where citizens are hitting the polls to choose between two contrasting candidates.
DIGLA, Egypt -- Several hundred voters lined up Saturday in the hot mid morning sun to cast their votes at Victoria College in the upper middle class district of Digla, a leafy oasis on the outskirts of crowded Cairo and home to many in Egypt’s expatriate American community.
If presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, guardian of stability and secularism to supporters and proxy of the hated old regime to critics, would do well, one would expect it to be here.
After all, he is running against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi who has pledged to impose religious law.
But the reality was very different.
"If you have a snake, you have to cut off the head and tail, or the serpent will revive. Shafiq would give the snake a new head,” said retired army officer, Mahmoud Sabri, as he leaned on his cane.
Charlene Gubash / NBC News
Mahmoud Sabri shows the dye on his finger used to make sure voters cast ballots only once.
“I think these people (the Muslim Brotherhood) had been imprisoned for eight years. They are still struggling against the dictatorship and against every bad thing we have suffered since the revolution of 1952,” added Sabri.
Engineer Mohamed Hassan, who lived in the U.S. for 10 years and got his PhD from the University of Illinois, said, “I am voting for Dr. Morsi ... (he) will continue what we started one and a half years ago. The revolution was started to change the regime and Morsi will continue to build a real democracy. We do not want a military backed system. We need freedom, and different parties and so on.”
Was he worried they would impose an Islamic state?
“They are peaceful people ... and have been pushing for democracy for thirty years.”
Pharmacist Ayman Mohamed also shared his opinion.
“I want Morsi,” said Mohamed. “Shafiq represents the old system and corruption and the revolution hoped to remove Shafiq. If there is no corruption, I think Morsi will win.”
“I am very worried about the country,” added Hisham Watani, a young music composer. “I am worried about Shafiq winning so I voted for Dr. Morsi. All of (former President Hosni) Mubarak’s men will destroy us and destroy Egypt.”
Haitham, an engineer who gave only his first name because he works with an international company, asked: “Why did we do a revolution? If Shafiq will come, the revolution is dead. We need change. My choice depends on Morsi. He can change the system.”
“I am not happy with either but I have to choose one,” said Mohamed Abbass, project engineer with a petrochemical company. “Shafiq is against the revolution so I chose Morsi. I hope Morsi will make big changes,” added Abbass.
Some Shafiq voters were also unenthusiastic but more concerned about stability than change.
"God help us!," said Ali Mostafa, one of the first to arrive to vote. "I had to choose a candidate to feel like I did something. I chose Shafiq."
“I prefer Shafiq who will bring back security and stability,” said businessman Mohamed Mohsen.
Haitham, a computer engineer who also refused to provide his last name because of his company affiliation, said he had more confidence in Shafiq’s ability to lead.
“I voted Shafiq because of his previous experience as a leader and manager. Experience plays a bigger role in time dependent decisions.”
Surgeon Maher Salib voted Shafiq for the same reason. “I believe he can control this country.”
A senior citizen, aided by a young woman, refused to provide his name but said that while it was a tough decision, he voted for Shafiq. “He will return stability and security,” he said. “I feel relaxed. At last I have voted.”
Haitham, the computer engineer, voiced concern about the day results are announced. "What will happen after the election is what worries everyone. We expect unrest no matter who wins."
Many worry the ruling military council will stage a coup if the Muslim Brotherhood candidate prevails. Others fear Islamists will take to the streets if Shafiq wins, in the belief that power was snatched from their hands by fraud. Stay tuned.
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