Middle East

Alexandria voters face dilemma after surprise election

Protesters hold up photos of Khalid Saeed Image copyright Ahmed Waddah
Image caption The death of Khalid Saeed at the hands of undercover police was a catalyst for Egypt's revolution

Traditionally a conservative stronghold, Egypt's second-largest city has surprisingly backed a leftist presidential candidate, leaving voters to struggle over run-off choices.

The Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Mursi, and Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, made it to the run-off for the presidency, but neither man was in the top three in Alexandria in the first round.

Instead, Egypt's second city was won by the leftist Hamdeen Sabahi who received double the votes of his nearest rival.

Outside the Qa'id Ibrahim mosque - a focal point for protesters in Alexandria - effigies of Mubarak, his sons and former officials in orange jumpsuits were given mock executions after the results.

Opposite, an effigy of Mr Shafiq in military fatigues met the same fate.

Alexandria, a cosmopolitan city founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, was a seat of learning and enlightenment. It is now a stronghold of Salafists, ultraconservative Muslims, and Islamists.

Divisive candidates

Mohammad Sherif Ghamrawi, a young dentist, believes Mr Shafiq will win. He expects the former air force commander, who has been launching stinging attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood, to have its leaders put behind bars and to recreate the old regime.

Meanwhile Hanaa, a veiled university manager, is boycotting the poll.

"Mr Shafiq is the military's candidate, and as a moderate Muslim, I do not want Mr Mursi, who only represents the MB, to lead Egypt," she says.

University lecturer Ahmed Waddah also dislikes both candidates.

"Mr Shafiq is part of the former regime which was never democratic or in favour of personal liberties," he says.

"Judging by the MB's three months in charge of the parliament, they are anti-women and anti-freedom.

"I will spoil my ballot in the run-off and write on it: 'Down with the military and MB. The revolution continues!'"

Many fear that if Mr Shafiq wins, hope for change will vanish given his military background and his promise to end wildcat protests by force.

But one university lecturer, who did not want to be named, believes Mr Shafiq is the perfect man to lead Egypt at this stage.

"He's a soldier - an experienced man of law and order. Only he can restore the stability and security destroyed by this failed revolution. And he will end the MB's rise," she says.

Hoda, a married mother of two, says that lack of security means her teenage son carries a taser gun, and her 22-year-old daughter keeps a pepper-spray can, both illegal, for self-defence.

"Mr Shafiq may be a good man but his loyalty lies with Mubarak and the former regime," she says.

Revolutionary success?

Mr Ghamrawi, the dentist, believes that "physically, the revolution has failed miserably because none of its figures is in any leading position and because it's left us with a big dilemma".

The revolution has, however, succeeded psychologically because "now the country belongs to the people and officials are now at the service of the people".

Moreover, Mr Ghamrawi believes last year's revolution will be the seed of another, successful, revolution in 15 to 20 years' time.

According to Tamer Samadoni, a medical biophysics researcher, Egypt finds itself for the first time in the uncharted territory of not knowing with any degree of certainty who the next president is.

But he still cannot judge the revolution's success.

"It's like a celestial event and you don't know whether it's the birth or death of a star."

Mr Waddah says that while reality has tempered the rosy dreams of the revolution, he remains optimistic for Egypt.

Image copyright Youssef Taha
Image caption 'The revolution continues' according to this car bumper sticker

"People now are politically savvy and whenever they rally behind an objective, it is achieved."

For the lecturer, "the greatest achievement of the revolution has been smashing the wall of fear even if it has failed so far to reach all its objectives."

Mr Waddah says the military in Egypt "will not allow any president to infiltrate their fort or subject their budget and economic activities to public scrutiny but they must".

This view is opposed by Mohammad Shirbini, a veteran of the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel.

"The Armed Forces has protected the revolution and the country. It is the ruby in Egypt's crown, and it must be revered."