By MAGGIE MICHAEL and SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's wide-open presidential election, which was in its second day of voting Thursday, is showing how deeply polarized the nation has become, with backers of rival Islamists and former regime figures each vowing they cannot let the other rule.
The impact of their rivalry goes beyond the key question of who gets to rule Egypt for the next four years.
An Islamist president will mean a more religious government, while many fear a figure from Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime occupying the land's highest office would keep Egypt locked in dictatorship and thwart democracy.
The two candidates that inspire the most polarized opinions are Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest political group, and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mubarak's last prime minister, who was booted out of office by street protests several weeks after his former boss.
In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, the mother of a young businessman who was beaten to death by policemen in 2010 warned of a "second revolution" if one of the "feloul" — a member of the Mubarak regime, like Shafiq — is elected. The killing of her son, Khaled Said, helped ignite the uprising against Mubarak last year.
"I don't feel that my son has received justice," Said's mother, Laila Marzouk, said Thursday after she voted for Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist candidate who is a favorite among revolutionaries. "If one of the feloul of Mubarak's regime wins, another revolution will start and I'll be among the first to take part."
Beside Shafiq, the only other Mubarak regime figure running is Amr Moussa, who served as foreign minister for 10 years before he became the Arab League chief in 2001.
Resentment of the old regime and its symbols runs deep in some of Cairo's poor neighborhoods.
In the Dar el-Salam district, piles of festering trash sit outside polling centers and residents complain that their life has taken a turn for the worse after last year's uprising because some of the basic services, like trash collection and traffic policing, have disappeared — some suspect deliberately.
"The municipality is not functioning, trash collectors are not working and there are no traffic policemen out on the streets," said Ahmed Abdo, a 51-year old minibus driver.
"The old regime is still here and is fighting back ... they want us to regret that we revolted."
His friend Ismail Eid, 43, agreed. "So long as the new president is backed by the poor, we will be his protectors. We will crush whoever tries to get in his way."
Both Shafiq and Morsi have repeatedly spoken of the dangers, real or imaginary, of the other becoming president. Morsi has said there would be massive street protests if a "feloul" wins the vote. They can only win if an election is rigged, he warned.
Shafiq, on his part, has said it would be "unacceptable" if an Islamist takes the presidential office, echoing the rhetoric of Mubarak, his longtime mentor who devoted much of his 29-year rule to fighting Islamists. Still, Shafiq's campaign has said it would accept the election's result.
While a Shafiq victory could spark protests, the deeper problem is whether Egypt's multiple power centers will be able to work together no matter who wins. Egyptians are eager for the new leader to rebuild the nation, wracked by more than a year of unrest, crime and a faltering economy.
A major issue is how a president will get along with the Islamist-dominated parliament, where the Brotherhood alone holds nearly half the seats and ultraconservatives known as Salafist have another 20 percent.
Also looming is the writing of a new constitution, already the source of contention. The Brotherhood and Islamists tried to control the panel tasked with writing the charter, sparking a backlash that led to the dissolving of the panel by a court ruling.
There is also the question of the powers that should be retained by the military after a president is elected. Many are concerned that the generals who took power after Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11, 2011, will try to retain influence.
The two days of voting, which end Thursday, are not expected to produce an outright winner among the 13 candidates vying for the post. If no one gets at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff June 16-17. The winner will be announced June 21.