A world away from the chaos, violence and abuses of elections under Hosni Mubarak's rule, Egyptian voters queued in huge, orderly lines on Monday, many still in disbelief that they could now play a part in shaping their nation's future.
Some brought their children. Others clutched briefcases on their way to work. Around them banners fluttered for parties banned under Mubarak, who was swept away by a popular uprising in February after 30 years of one-man rule.Many Egyptians suspect the generals who replaced Mubarak want to wield power behind the scenes even after handing day-to-day government to civilians, and some fear vote rigging will resurface. But on Monday most people were simply enjoying what for many was the first time they had bothered to vote.
They chatted about the new choices before them, revelling in the novelty of an election where the outcome was not a foregone conclusion before the first ballot was cast.
"Before we knew in advance who was going to dominate. So apathy was the order of the day. Today we don't know what the outcome will be. Voters are energised," said Etimad Sameh, 48, a taxi driver waiting his turn in Egypt's second city, Alexandria.
Nearby, posters were plastered on walls and banners hung from lamp posts urging voters to pick candidates of the ultra-conservative Islamist Al-Nour, the party of the influential Muslim Brotherhood or the centrist Islamist Wasat party.
Those parties were banned or blocked under Mubarak.
Concerns that voting could be marred by violence, after clashes accompanied protests against army rule in Cairo and other cities last week, have so far proved unwarranted.
"There is no fear. That is the main difference you notice about these voters," said Judge Diaa Mohamed, supervising another polling station in Alexandria, one of the areas included in the first round of the three-phase vote that ends in January.
"There are very old people who have come out because they believe they are participating in a transparent process."
Judges have been called back into election service. A year ago they were excluded from supervising the last vote of the Mubarak era, which was widely seen as thoroughly rigged. Queues in Monday's vote showed Egypt's social spectrum. Women in Islamic headscarves or wearing Coptic Christian crosses waited beside those in tight jeans with hair exposed. Men in suits stood next to those in traditional "galabiya" robes. In rural areas, workers came in from the fields. In cities, employees stopped off on their way to offices. "I am waiting, no matter what it takes," said Mona Mabrouk, a 48-year-old oil company employee in the Cairo suburb of Maadi.