CAIRO - Fifteen months after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians are readying to go to polling stations on Wednesday, May 23, to elect a new president in the first free election in Egypt's history.
"The presidential polls are a milestone in Egypt's history, Nabil Zaki, an analyst with the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Xinhua news agency.
After 30 years, the Egyptians get their will back.
Egyptians will go to polling stations on Wednesday and Thursday to elect a new president after Mubarak was ousted in a popular revolt last year.
Thirteen candidates are vying in the vote, including Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Mursi, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh and former premier Ahmed Shafiq.
Opinion polls, a largely untested exercise in Egypt, have varied widely but suggest the front-runners are two Islamists, Mursi and Abul-Futuh, and two Mubarak-era figures, Moussa and Shafiq.
Leftist Hamdeen Sabahy is a dark horse in the race with a growing following among young revolutionaries and workers.
"If we analyze the map of the contest, we can dub it as a race between the Islamic trend and the liberal one, even if there are some like Moussa who aren't purely liberal, their trend is still not Islamic," Zaki said.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round, the top two vote-getters will fight a run-off in June.
The army has pledged to hand power to the new president by July 1 and insists it is not siding with any candidate.
Many Egyptians, however, believe that the election will make no change as long as the military keeps grip on power.
"Any president who comes with Egypt's military dictatorship still in place means nothing, Amr Adel, 23, told Reuters.
We have been living for decades in an oppressive police state and I don't see that this is changing.
We need to keep spreading awareness," he added, sitting in a Cairo cafe surrounded by a pile of university books.
Disillusioned with the mainstream politics that emerged after Mubarak's fall, Adel has joined street protests against the ruling military council, which took over from Mubarak.
Youth activists like Adel say they have been squeezed out in past 15 months, partly by the organized power of Islamists who triumphed in a parliamentary election completed in January, and partly by the military council and establishment loyalists whom they accuse of hiring thugs to attack them during protests.
Many believe the military will continue to rule Egypt from behind a facade of democratic institutions, but they acknowledge they are uncertain about how to go forward.
"Before and after the revolution, we should have had a plan for what we would do after Mubarak left," says Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6th movement that sparked a wave of labor strikes in 2008, a catalyst of the revolt three years later.
Maher sees the long-entrenched army as the biggest obstacle to pro-democracy reform, accusing it of using violence against civilians to preserve its political and economic interests.
"If there is Islamic rule in Egypt, we can protest, fight, quarrel, file lawsuits, stage demonstrations, but with army rule there is no room for negotiation," the civil engineer argues.
Rights groups estimate that more than 10,000 people have been referred to military courts since Mubarak fell, four times the number who faced that fate during his rule.
Almost by definition, Egypt's young people - about a quarter of its 82 million people are aged 18 to 29 - lack political experience.
Some of those involved in the struggle to bring down Mubarak now realize they must organize or risk fading away."Organization remains the central question on which the success or failure of the revolution will depend," says Ahmed Nour, a 26-year-old doctor and member of the Revolutionary Socialists.