In the run-up to the ballot, there have been no reliable opinion surveys, nor is there a permanent Constitution to set the president’s duties and powers. But the vote is widely seen as crucial in choosing a leader to influence Egypt’s course for decades to come.If the leading vote-getter doesn't get sufficient votes, there will be a runoff election in June.
About 50 million Egyptians are eligible to vote, and four or five of the candidates are seen as plausible contenders.
From the Islamist side, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh has campaigned as a relative liberal while Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has offered a more conservative vision.
Two candidates held positions under President Hosni Mubarak, deposed 15 months ago as the Arab Spring began to stir revolt in many parts of the Arab world — the former prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, and Amr Moussa, a former diplomat and elder statesman.
A fifth candidate is the Nasserite, Hamdeen Sabbahy, a poet-turned-populist who is campaigning as a political descendant of the leader of the Egyptian revolution of 1952, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The ballot represented a remarkable break with the traditions of the Mubarak era, when presidential elections simply confirmed the ruling elite in a land that for decades has been used to power exercised by presidents drawn from the military after centuries of highly centralized rule.
Since the fall of Mr. Mubarak, the military has continued to play a dominant role in steering the transition.
The problem is that the military continues to throw its weight around and it remains to be seen whether they'll abide by the results of the elections should Morsi or Fotouh win. While the military claims that they'll relinquish power by July 1, Fotouh has a pretty good chance of winning, primarily because he's got the support of Islamists as well as moderates, but Amr Moussa may be preferred by the diplomatic elites, who see Moussa as a known quantity.
The candidates are trying to stress the need to work on economic development and restoring law and order but one of their fallback positions has been to question the Camp David Accords with Israel.
Egyptian candidates have repeatedly called for a review of the Camp David Accords that has brought a cold peace between the two nations.
That the candidates have repeatedly mentioned Israel is a relief valve rather than constructive engagement of the problems facing Egypt. The peace deal with Israel has been beneficial to Egypt, and mentioning Israel is simply meant to deflect attention from the real problems facing Egyptians today. That includes a stagnant economy that is ill-equipped to deal with social mobility, entrenched elites, and lack of opportunities.