CAIRO - Reaching the final stage of Egypt's path towards democracy, Egyptians began voting on Saturday, June 16, to choose their first president after the January 25 revolution in the runoff pitting an Islamist against a former premier of the old regime.
We are back to the political dynamic of secular versus Islamist, Mona Makram Ebeid, a political scientist and member of a body that advises SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, told Reuters.
That is what we as political forces are confronted with today, causing almost a gridlock, she said, referring to months of wrangling between the army, Islamists, liberals and other parties seeking to carve a new course for the nation.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0700 BST), with 150,000 troops deployed nationwide for the highly divisive election. They will close at 8 p.m. (1900 BST).
Mohammed Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, is up against Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised to hand over power to the winner by 1 July at the latest.
Mursi came first in last month's first round, in which turnout among the 52 million eligible voters was only 46%.
Official results gave Mursi 24.8% and Shafiq 23.7% and there are no clear polls indicating who may gain the upper hand in the run-off.
There are 351 committees and 13,097 sub-committees where 50.2 million eligible voters are expected to vote.
The elections second round follows the shocking court ruling crediting Ahmed Shafiq the right to run in this weekend's ballot.
Another ruling declared the dissolution of the lower house of Islamists-led parliament.
A first-round presidential vote last month pushed more moderate candidates out of the race and the choice now facing 50 million eligible voters reflects a society torn between desire for change after six decades of military rule and anxiety over the damage wrought on Egypt by the subsequent political chaos.
Unrest has simmered on the streets of Egypt's cities throughout the period of military rule, with opponents of the army calling for the removal of "feloul", or Mubarak-era remnants, from politics.
The election comes amid turmoil that could see the ruling military, which took power when Mubarak resigned in February last year, maintain its grip on power.
"It is clear that SCAF has been pushing its vision, which is of a deep state protected and sealed from representative and elected institutions," Hesham Sallam, a researcher at Georgetown University, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
The military had vowed to cede power to civilian rule once a new president is elected, but the transition has been legally chaotic.
On Thursday, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled certain articles in the law governing parliamentary elections to be invalid, thus annulling the Islamist-led house.
The Brotherhood won 47 percent of the body's seats in a drawn-out process between November last year and February.
The top court also ruled unconstitutional the "political isolation" law, which bars senior members of Mubarak's regime and top members of his now-dissolved party from running for public office for 10 years.
The law, passed by parliament earlier this year, had threatened to bar Shafiq from the race.
The official results of the presidential election are expected on June 21.
"Irrespective of who wins, you don't know who will be president but you know what kind of presidency it will be," Sallam said.
One that is subservient to SCAF. Whether that will hold is another question.