What future for Egypt after the election?
Next week, the Egyptian people will go to the polls to choose a new president.
This is an important election after former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
However, the country is in political crisis and turmoil. In recent days, thousands of protesters have descended on Tahrir Square as the schism threatening to tear Egyptian politics apart widens ahead of the presidential election.
Several marches set off throughout the capital to join up with protesters already in Tahrir. The latest rounds of street protests were sparked by the verdict in the trial of former president Mubarak. He received a life sentence but many of his sons and aides were exonerated.
Many analysts believe that the trial verdict will impact on voter turnout for the upcoming vote. Many voters could boycott the elections in a large-scale expression of anger.
Moreover, causing much of the anger is the presence of Mubarak's prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, as the presidential candidate to face the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi.
On one march, protesters tore down posters of Shafiq. Chants against the old regime and the ruling military junta echoed through the streets.
Ali Abu Zeid, a protester at one of the marches, told the UK Guardian newspaper: "We're still asking for that Tahrir slogan ‘Bread, freedom and social justice'. The regime hasn't fallen yet. We must remove Shafiq and enforce the law against Mubarak.
Egypt's electoral committee declared the presidential election would pit a Muslim Brother against the former ally of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak but one losing candidate rejected the outcome of a "dishonest" vote.
The committee confirmed the Brotherhood's Mursi and ex-air-force chief Shafiq had proceeded to the second round of Egypt's first genuinely contested presidential vote.
Mursi topped the poll with 24.3 per cent of the votes, followed by Shafiq with 23.3 per cent. Turnout was 46 per cent.
A Mursi-Shafiq run-off poses an agonising dilemma for many of Egypt's 50 million voters who are equally wary of Islamist rule or a return to a military-backed authoritarian system.
About half of the first-round votes went to candidates somewhere in the middle ground – from leftist firebrand Hamdeen Sabahi, third-placed with 20.4 per cent, to moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, with 17.2 per cent, and former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa, with 10.9 per cent.
The final election round faces many difficulties, with the dispute among political parties increasing.
Political forces and eliminated candidates in the first round of voting have proposed to form a presidential council to consist of candidate Mursi as its head and losing candidates Sabahi and Foutouh as deputies to back Mursi when he confronts Shafiq in the election.
They hope that the interim council will preempt a return of the Mubarak regime and also achieve a degree of national unity.
But former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is also an eliminated candidate, rejects the proposal. Reuters quotes Moussa as saying: "It threatens the democratic process and the stability of the country."
Moussa says the presidential election scheduled for June 16 and 17 should be held to "express the free will of the people".
"The final say is from the ballots," Moussa said.
Also included in the proposal was that liberal leader Mohamed ElBaradei would form a national coalition government comprising all revolutionary forces and parties to face Shafiq in his contest against Mursi.
Moreover, many demands to suspend the election are being made as the day of voting gets closer.
French news agency AFP reported that earlier this week Egyptian politicians, including three of the losing candidates in the first round of the election, joined forces with the youth group demanding the election be suspended.
The call was aimed at putting pressure on candidate Shafiq.
Leftist Sabahi and moderate Islamist Fotouh, who came third and fourth respectively in last month's polls, joined the call, along with fellow candidate Khaled Ali.
They are demanding that the election be suspended until the implementation of the so-called political isolation law, which bans Mubarak-era officials from standing for office.
Shafiq was initially barred from standing in the presidential race but in late April the electoral commission accepted Shafiq's appeal against his disqualification.
The result of the first round of votes puts the Egyptian voters in a dilemma. They don't know who to choose.
In the campaign, candidate Shafiq said he will start a new era for Egypt and called on people to co-operate. He pledged not to bring back the old regime but instead would solve the country's security issues in 24 hours if he wins.
He also criticised the current protesters, which he said had caused turmoil for the country. So Shafiq has got support from many people who are tired of witnessing the increasingly violent disputes and shattered economy.
Meanwhile, candidate Mursi pledged to the voters that if he wins he would withdraw from the Muslim Brotherhood and become a president for the Egyptian people.
However, according to journalist Pham Phu Phuc, who has spent many years in Egypt, voters are still wavering over the belief that if Muslim candidate Mursi wins, the Muslim Brotherhood will be given too much power and will build Egypt to become an extreme Muslim state. And if Shafiq becomes president, they fear the country will return to the old regime and Egypt will be at risk of further division.
Whoever wins the vote will face having to repair the shattered economy by restoring investor trust; restore the tourism industry, one of the major pillars of the economy; co-operate with parliament to build a new constitution in which the president's power will be limited.
These are really tough tasks, especially in a political system still heavily influenced by the overall power of the military. — VNS