In the hometown of Hosni Mubarak, 72-year-old Hajj Sayyed climbed the polling station stairs to vote in an election that will set Egypt on a new democratic course, with little thought for the former president who he said neglected his own kin.
“We are done with the past. It is time to move on. Today, we are voting to make ourselves heard,” said Sayyed, after casting his ballot in the Nile Delta town of Kafr Musailha.
“Today I tell the world, we are turning a page and we are ready to forget about the people who forgot about us when they settled comfortably into power,” he added.
There is little love lost for the deposed president in the town where he spent his early years before joining the air force. Once in high office, residents, say Mubarak forgot about them and the troubles facing all ordinary Egyptians.
“Hosni Mubarak buried us alive and killed our spirits, but now injustice is gone,” Magdy Rady, a 46 year-old water plant worker, said. “It doesn’t matter who wins in these elections because no one is ever going to accept any injustice again.”
Mubarak, 83, is on trial over the killing of protesters and for abuse of power.
The challenge voiced by many in Kafr Musailha, and echoed in similar towns and villages across Egypt, is how to deal with the confused political landscape after his departure as they vote in the first free parliamentary election in decades.
When his one-man rule collapsed, a profusion of parties and politicians emerged, leaving many struggling to identify what many of them stand for.
Gone are the old faces, some of them Mubarak’s allies or members of his defunct party. But local notables, who might have offered some continuity, can now hardly get their voices heard over the bigger, more organized Islamist parties and others who better able to campaign across new broad voting constituencies.
“All we want is an independent who understands us and is close to our problems,” said Nermine, 27, trying to pick a candidate who was neither a former associate of Mubarak's disbanded National Democratic Party nor an Islamist.
“Even though we are free today and I am voting without being put under pressure, I blame him (Mubarak) for the few options we have,” she said. “This is his real legacy, deforming politics so deeply that we are stuck with nothing but confusion.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and other Islamists are leading the election so far. But many welcome the chance to give Islamists, routinely repressed by Mubarak, a shot at power.
“I understand why some are worried the FJP may hijack power, but they shouldn't be concerned. If they don’t do what people want, they will be gone in a year. We know the way to Tahrir,” said FJP voter Lamloum Abdel Salam, referring to the square in Cairo that was the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak uprising.
“Now, we are voting knowing our voices won’t be changed, even if we don't pick the winner. When you taste that victory, you can never accept the tyranny of the past again,” said Abdel Salam, 45, standing outside what residents say was a Mubarak family home, a neat, yellow-painted villa with red shutters.
Minufiya, the province where Kafr Musailha is located, was long a regional stronghold for Mubarak's NDP. Many voters are giving those “remnants”, or “feloul” in Arabic, of the disbanded party a wide berth.
But some former party members complain they are being unfairly tarred with the brush of corruption even though they tried to help the community.
“We should be focused on building and changing this country, instead we are holding knives against each other’s necks. Why have they put a stamp of shame on the millions that were in the party?” said Mohamed al-Kot, who was elected as a local council member that was dissolved under pressure from protesters.
“Just like there were some bad apples, there were plenty of good ones,” he said. “I never forged an election and I will never join another party to hide my identity.”
But Kot is not running for office again and few names from the old order have put themselves forward for the election, aware that they are likely to punished at the polls. In Kafr Musailha, members of the old order can expect little backing.
“Today, from their stronghold, we will bring down the remnants of that party, as well as the beards that seek to replace them with a theocracy,” Ahmed Rashed, 34, said.