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GUY RAZ, HOST:

We're going to stay in Egypt for a few more minutes but shift our focus to the port city of Alexandria. Voters there lined up for blocks to cast their ballots today. Many are first-time voters who say they're thrilled to have a choice of candidates from across the political spectrum. But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports now, these voters also expect one group to win many of the seats up for grabs: the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Dozens of veiled women tried to squeeze past each other into a polling station in the working-class neighborhood of Raml. They are eager to cast ballots for this clean-shaven man in a crisp blue suit and matching tie.

SOBHI SALEH: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: His name is Sobhi Saleh, and he heads the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party ticket in three of Alexandria's districts.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking foreign language)

SALEH: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: One voter complains to him about the long queues. Saleh jokes that she ought to cut in front of the other women. He appears more relaxed than a year ago when he was forced out of parliament in rigged elections along with other pro-Muslim Brotherhood legislators. They held roughly one in five seats. They were not officially with the Islamist group as it was banned during Hosni Mubarak's time, decades after the Brotherhood renounced violence.

But they were the core of a noisy opposition that drew people's attention to the corruption and graft permeating the former president's government. During the last election, Saleh was harassed and beaten by Egyptian security forces. Today, he sings their praises. They, in turn, treat him with respect.

SALEH: (Speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

SALEH: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: Like this police official at one polling center who bows as he shakes Saleh's hand. Good luck and God bless you, he tells the candidate. Saleh says his party's goal is to make life easier for Egyptians.

SALEH: (Through translator) We will advocate for what the Egyptian people want, and they will feel like citizens of a free country.

NELSON: But many Alexandria residents interviewed worry that Islamists vying for seats here and across Egypt will do the opposite. Their fears are bolstered by candidates pledging to enforce a stricter observance of Islamic codes. In a recent incident here in which members of a fundamentalist movement covered up semi-nude mermaid statues with blankets.

MINA SAMIR: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: Egyptian Christians like Mina Samir predict violent attacks against cops like him will increase with the Muslim Brotherhood in charge. The 22-year-old business major also fears Islamist legislators will eventually ban access to the Internet, television and even cars because they were invented by non-Muslims. Fellow university student Alaa Ramadan shares his concerns. An Egyptian Muslim who was born in Switzerland, the 22-year-old says she will return to Europe if the Brotherhood pursues a fundamentalist agenda.

ALAA RAMADAN: (Through Translator) Their strategy is to go to the poor areas and talk to residents about Islam. They tell them they have to vote for their candidates for Islam to win.

NELSON: Saleh dismisses these fears as nonsense. He says the party's goals are to improve the Egyptian economy and government services, and that most voters know that. But party officials aren't taking any chances.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: They, like many other political parties, sent out scores of campaign workers to hand out glossy fliers and talk to voters standing in line at polling stations, which is against election rules here.

SALEH: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: Saleh spent much of the day inside key polling stations in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds to make sure the vote was going smoothly. Officials say candidates who do so are violating the election rules. Voting in Alexandria and eight other Egyptians governorates continues tomorrow. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Alexandria.

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