Millions of Egyptians stood in line for hours Wednesday to freely choose their president for the first time in their country's long history. The election, which will continue on Thursday, pits secularists against Islamists, and revolutionaries against old regime figures promising to restore stability after nearly a year and a half of turmoil following the toppling of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. What will the vote mean for Egypt's future? Here are four critical questions about the election, and what the result will mean:
1. Which candidates will make the run-off?
Anointed candidates in the Mubarak era frequently won with 90 percent of the vote, says Simon Allison at South Africa's Daily Maverick, but nobody will dominate this time. So the central question is which two candidates will make the run-off on June 16 and 17. Thirty percent of the electorate was undecided heading into the vote, but three names stand out in the field of 13: The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi, the secular Amr Moussa, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an Islamist who is using a unifying message to appeal to secularists. Once the run-off rivals are chosen, a "whole new round of politicking" will begin.
2. Is Egypt going Islamist?
A win for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood's Mursi would "likely mean a greater emphasis on religion in government," says The Associated Press. The Brotherhood, outlawed under Mubarak, wants to implement a moderate version of Islamic law. Its leaders say they "won't mimic Saudi Arabia and force women to wear veils or implement harsh punishments like amputations." Still, liberals say imposing sharia would curtail newly won rights, and Moussa and other secularists are vowing to prevent Islamization of the government. "But that will mean frictions with parliament if they win," because the Brotherhood already dominates there.
3. Will the army really hand over power?
The military has dominated the government for decades, and may be reluctant to "quietly give it all up," says Hamza Hendawi of The Associated Press. Pro-democracy groups insist the revolution can't succeed until the army is stripped of its political power. But the military reportedly favors a candidate tied to the old ways: Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who was Mubarak's prime minister in his last days in power. "Islamists have threatened massive protests if he is elected, and contend that he could only win if the vote was rigged."
4. Will women be the key voting bloc?
Women played a big role in the protests that toppled Mubarak, says Jon Leyne at BBC News, but "so far, they have not reaped much of a reward." And activists fear that the new parliament, which is almost exclusively male and dominated by Islamists, "could roll back women's rights." But for now, the presidential election offers women a chance to be heard, and several frontrunners have taken notice: The moderate Islamist Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh is promising gender equality, and Shafiq has pledged to appoint a woman as vice president.