Voting In Egypt Goes Smoothly On First Day

The first day of voting is over in the unprecedented free presidential election in Egypt. No major irregularities were reported thus far in the election that continues on Thursday. Voters thronged polling centers across the country to cast a ballot.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Egypt, millions of voters went to the polls today in the country's first-ever free presidential election. Most Egyptians were jubilant as they cast ballots for one of 13 candidates. The contest pitted Islamists against secular candidates in a race that never would have been possible while Hosni Mubarak was president. Among the voters who turned out, teacher Yara Khaled.

YARA KHALED: There will be some ups and downs, I believe, but I think it's, you know, it's definitely better than what we've been through for the past 30 years.

SIEGEL: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo that so far, the voting appears to have gone off without a hitch.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: This military policeman outside a polling station in a suburban community called New Cairo admitted voters in orderly groups of 20. No one was getting preferential treatment in what Egypt's ruling generals claim will be the freest and fairest election here to date - not even Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister who is a leading presidential candidate. He stood in line for more than an hour as reporters shouted questions at him.

After casting his ballot, Moussa looked happy.

AMR MOUSSA: I'm really confident. I'm in a very good mood.

NELSON: All over Cairo and across Egypt, excited voters cast ballots in the historic election. One is analyst Omar Ashour, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Center in Dohar, Qatar.

OMAR ASHOUR: It means hope, and it means freedom. And it means that the sacrifices that were done throughout this revolution is not gone without a fruit.

NELSON: There were few irregularities reported today.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

FAROUK SULTAN: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: At a televised news conference, the head of Egypt's presidential election commission said the only violations he had to report were committed by several candidates. Farouk Sultan accused them of campaigning at polling stations. He adds he referred them to Egypt's top prosecutor, who will decide whether they should be charged. But everyone, from voters to election officials, appeared content with how the poll is going.

In the northern port city of Alexandria, one of the judges overseeing a polling center was Mohamed Abol-Ela.

MOHAMED ABOL-ELA: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The judge says voter turnout was higher than during the recent parliamentary elections, but that things were also running more smoothly. He says part of that is because Egyptians have gotten used to how elections work, given this is the fourth poll in 15 months. But, Abol-Ela adds, it's also because the government has gotten better at doing them. Election officials were determined to make fraud more difficult.

One change was to make women voters wearing the niqab or full-facial veil lift the garment and show their faces to female poll workers so they could be matched against their IDs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: One veiled voter was Khaireya Sayed, who cast her ballot in the Giza neighborhood of Aguza. The 50-year-old housewife says she didn't mind raising her veil. More important, she adds, was that she got a chance to vote. Analyst Omar Ashour agreed that things were running smoothly, although he wished there were more independent monitors at the voting centers.

ASHOUR: One of the main problems, the result came out and it was close, some of the voters and some of the political forces would not accept it. And this is where we'll see an escalation, probably.

NELSON: But for now, voters seemed more concerned with casting ballots than debating the results. So many Egyptians turned out that the polling centers stayed open for an addition hour. The election ends tomorrow, with results not expected until next week. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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