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Islamist Faces Member Of The Old Guard In Egypt Election

After some unexpected political drama this week, Egyptians are choosing a president Saturday, and the choice reflects the deep divisions in the country that has been unsettled since its revolution last year.

On the one side is Mohammed Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic group that dominated the parliamentary elections back in December and January.

His opponent in the runoff is Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak. Shafiq is seen as representing the old guard and the interests of the military, which has been calling the shots through a military council.

The voting began smoothly with long lines reported at some polling stations in Cairo. Some 50 million Egyptians are eligible to vote Saturday and Sunday, and results are not expected until a day or two after the balloting ends.

Until a couple days ago, it seemed the presidential runoff would provide some direction and stability for Egypt. The country would finally have an elected leader, along with an elected parliament, and could focus on the huge task of writing a new constitution and creating a new political system after decades of authoritarian rule.

But this was all thrown into question when the country's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that at least some of the parliament was elected illegally and that the entire parliament should be dissolved.

The court is packed with judges appointed by Mubarak, and many Egyptians saw it as an attempt by the old guard to undermine the rapidly rising Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

But Morsi said the court ruling should be respected, and while there were marches on Friday, there was no unrest, as some had feared.

Still, the court ruling does complicate Egypt's politics. Some members of parliament have said they plan to meet as scheduled on Tuesday, despite the court decision. And parliament is responsible for writing the new constitution, which seems certain to be delayed.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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