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Millions in Egypt Cast Ballots in First Free Election

May 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: All across Egypt, people did something today that they’d never done before, voting in a genuinely competitive election for president.

For some, it was a day to savor new freedoms. For others, there was skepticism about what comes next.

Millions of Egyptians waited hours in line for the chance to cast a history-making ballot. Voters went to the polls 15 months after mass protests toppled President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years. Election monitors said the first of two days of voting went smoothly.

MOHAMED FAYEK, vice president, National Council for Human Rights (through translator): We have received some complaints about the delay in opening some of the polling stations and about campaigning in front of the polling stations, but these were few, and we immediately contacted those responsible and put an end to these violations.

GWEN IFILL: Fifty million people were eligible to choose from a field of 13 candidates. They included figures from the Mubarak regime and leaders of the Islamist parties that dominated elections for parliament earlier this year.

Among the four main candidates, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and largest Islamist group, many of his supporters favor installing a version of Islamic Sharia law.

AYAT ADBEL HAMID, Egypt (through translator): I believe that Egypt has to be an Islamic state that follows the Islamic Sharia, and those who refuse using the Sharia do not really understand it, which is why they are against following it.

GWEN IFILL: Another Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, is considered a moderate, with support from secular liberals and minority Christians. The leading secular candidates include Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, who insisted he was his own man then and now.

AHMED SHAFIQ, Egyptian presidential candidate: I worked for myself. I worked for my family. I worked for the big family of Egypt, not for someone or for regime.

GWEN IFILL: Former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa is also a veteran of the Mubarak years, but says he firmly supports Egypt’s turn to democracy.

AMR MOUSSA, Egyptian presidential candidate (through translator): This is a good start for the second republic, and if God wills it, the majority of votes will bring the right president to Egypt.

GWEN IFILL: Many of those votes were expected to be influenced by rising concerns about crime and the economy.

FATHEYA MOHAMED, Egypt (through translator): Regardless of the fact that Mubarak was corrupt, life was easier. Life was a lot cheaper.

GWEN IFILL: And no matter who wins, it remains unclear whether the losers will accept the outcome and whether the ruling military council will readily cede power. Voting lasts through tomorrow, with a runoff likely in mid-June and a winner announced June 21.