Egyptians feel their votes 'will count'
Cairo - They waited patiently outside polling stations on Monday, some resting on chairs, and all eager to cast their ballots. For the first time, Egyptians feel like their vote will count.
"It's something that I never used to do," said Nevine Keddis, one of several women in the working class central Cairo neighbourhood of Shubra who were voting for the first time. "I hope this parliament will represent us."
Thousands of voters stood in queues across Cairo, their shoes covered in mud after a rare day of rain in the capital, arguing over politics as they waited to cast their ballots.
Turnout appeared high in the capital, but many polling stations opened late due to administrative problems ranging from the late arrival of judges supervising the procedure to a lack of ballot papers.
In the upmarket Cairo neighbourhood of Zamalek, several hundreds lined up for over an hour, some resting on chairs, before their polling station opened.
"I am sick and I wasn't planning on coming, but what happened recently made me feel that I had to vote. For 30 years we were silent. It's enough," 65-year-old Samira, an elderly woman queueing with her daughter, told AFP.
Residents of Maadi, south of Cairo, had trouble parking their cars causing traffic jams outside the schools that served as voting stations.
In villages surrounding the historic city of Luxor, in southern Egypt, residents also reported long queues forming.
For the most part, by late morning, the vote appeared to be passing off peacefully and orderly as the army and police forces discreetly deployed around polling stations.
Outside the voting centre in Shubra in Cairo, 10 members of the influential Muslim Brotherhood huddled together as a "popular committee" to offer extra protection to voters.
One of them, 41-year-old Arabic teacher Ibrahim Mustafa, said their presence was a reassurance, but they wouldn't fight back if attacked by anyone. "No, we will reason with them," he told AFP.
Minor violations of electoral law such as the distribution of campaign literature near polling stations were reported on Twitter by activists, while some voters found their papers were not stamped, making them void.
Overall, however, the mood of voters was one of hope amid high expectations of a new democratic era for the country.
"I'm voting for the future of Egypt," said Yussuf, a 25-year-old software engineer in Alexandria, Egypt's second-city and a major port on the Mediterranean.
"This is the first free election in our country. I hope it will be the first fair election," he told AFP.
Amin, a 55-year-old physician, said Egyptians should participate in the election, which looked in doubt last week amid calls for a boycott and fresh violence that claimed 42 lives.
Pro-democracy activists clashed with the interim military leaders who stepped in after the fall of autocratic Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down in february after 30 years in charge.
"There are many parties contesting this election, so the best thing is for Egyptians to participate," Amin told AFP.
"Last year, there was nobody voting because it was only one party," he said, referring to parliamentary elections in November and December of 2010.
In Tahrir Square - the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak - anti-military diehards said they had no confidence in the process and preferred to stay in the square to keep pushing for an end to military rule.
Several hundreds milled around in the shadow of the high-rise former headquarters of Mubarak's political party which was gutted by a fire during the January uprising.