Egyptians went to the polls on Wednesday for the first presidential vote since the 2011 uprising that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak. Voting will take place over two days.
There are 13 candidates on the ballot -- one has dropped out and endorsed a former rival – five of which are regarded as the main contenders.
Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in Egypt’s presidential election, is the Islamists’ fallback representative after their deputy leader Khairat al-Shater was disqualified.
But the powerful Islamist movement is throwing its entire formidable network of supporters behind the bearded and bespectacled engineer who was appointed last year as the head of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Brotherhood supporters lined up for kilometers along main Cairo roads and north of the capital last week holding up pictures of the portly 60-year-old former professor.
On Sunday, Mursi addressed thousands of supporters in a mass Cairo rally in a fiery stump speech, pledging his presidency would be based on Islam but would not be a theocracy.
The candidate has grown more comfortable in his new role as a potential president, gaining confidence in his interviews and public speeches.
Mursi was born in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya and graduated with an engineering degree from Cairo University in 1975. He received in 1982 a PhD from the University of Southern California, where he was an assistant professor.
He was a member of an anti-Israel group, the Committee to Resist Zionism, but dedicated much of his time to the Muslim Brotherhood, which first fielded him in a parliamentary election in 2000.
He kept his seat in the next election in 2005, which left the Brotherhood with a fifth of parliament, but was soon arrested and jailed for seven months after participating in protests supporting reformist judges.
By the 2010 election, Mursi had become a spokesman for the Islamists and a member of their politburo.
He was jailed again on the morning of Jan. 28, 2011, a day after the Muslim Brotherhood announced it would join the protests that would topple Mubarak almost two weeks later.
Mursi, and other Brotherhood leaders arrested at the time, served only a few days before they were sprung from jail during massive prison breaks across the country.
He now presents himself as the only candidate with an “Islamic program.”
Abdul Muniem Abul Fotouh
Ex-Muslim Brotherhood member Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh has attracted support from both hardline Islamists and liberals who believe he could defuse Egypt’s post-revolt religious divide.
The 61-year-old physician says he is the candidate of the revolution that toppled Mubarak. He says former regime members should stay out of the presidential race.
He has been endorsed by the radical Islamist group Jamaa Islamiyya, involved in the assassination of president Anwar Sadat, as well the fundamentalist Islamist party al-Nour.
But he is also well regarded by a large number of secular-minded youth who participated in last year’s uprising.
Abul Fotouh’s broad appeal stems partly from the fact that he has surrounded himself with a diverse team of advisors that include Marxists, feminists and Coptic Christians.
But others argue that Abul Fotouh has cast his net too wide, making different promises to different sectors of society, while some are suspicious of his talk of personal freedoms, believing he is more conservative than he publicly admits.
Abul Fotouh has campaigned heavily on the right of all Egyptians to health care and education, as well as personal freedom, earning him support from some leftist quarters.
“When people hear Sharia (Islamic law) mentioned, they immediately think that means the women will be forced to veil, tourism will be banned ... but they don't think of the amazing aspects of Sharia such as the emphasis on personal freedom, justice and development,” he told a popular talk show.
He is currently head of the Arab Medical Union, an emergency and relief group which has offered assistance to Gaza, Syria and Libya during times of conflict.
In an interview on Egyptian television, he branded Israel a “racist state” and said a 1979 peace treaty was “a national security threat” that should be revised.
Abul Fotouh’s political activism began when he was studying for a degree in medicine at Cairo University.
In 1977, when he was head of the university student union, he publicly confronted Sadat, accusing him of being a hypocrite surrounded by sycophants.
The exchange infuriated Sadat and raised Abul Fotouh’s profile.
Abul Fotouh joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a young activist and became a member of its politburo in 1987, when the group was still banned.
He received a second university degree, a bachelor of laws, while in prison.
Married to a physician Alia Khalil, he is the father of six children.
Amr Moussa, a veteran foreign minister, former Arab League chief and the presidential election’s main secular candidate, vows to lead a multi-confessional Egypt in the face of the rising power of Islamists.
His posters show him alternately smiling in casual attire, or serious and in suit and tie, posing in front of the country’s ancient temples or petrochemical facilities.
For months, the indefatigable diplomat has been actively campaigning in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt, far from the diplomatic corridors where he spent most of his career.
The fall of Mubarak, with whom he kept uneasy relations, has allowed him to display his presidential ambitions.
On Feb. 4, 2011, just days before Mubarak stepped down, Moussa gave hints of his desire to succeed his former boss.
“I am ready to serve as a citizen, who has the right to stand,” he said from the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo that overlooks al-Tahrir Square where crowds chanted to bring down the regime.
His campaign posters, of minarets and church steeples side by side, sit well with the Christian electorate that represents around 10 percent of the population.
Following the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi fundamentalist movements, who already control parliament, Moussa warns of the risk of turning the country into a “research lab” for followers of political Islam.
Nonetheless, Moussa never fails to emphasize his Muslim identity, praying five times a day, even on his campaign bus.
His post as Mubarak’s foreign minister from 1991 to 2001 is a handicap that he counters by implying his relations with the former strongman had been strained.
His popularity “was not comfortable’ for Mubarak, he acknowledged in a recent interview with AFP.
Moussa prefers to talk of the following decade, when he headed the 22-member Arab League, to which some say he was banished in order to keep him away from domestic politics.
His diatribes against Israel only added to his popularity among Egyptians.
He makes no secret of his lack of enthusiasm for the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Camp David accord, which according to him is “in the drawer,” although he insists he does not want to jeopardize peace with Israel.
As head of the Arab League, he was one of the few regional leaders to sense the earthquake of the Arab Spring.
In January 2011, days after the fall of Tunisian President Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali and shortly before the start of Egypt’s revolt, he caused a stir by warning “the anger and frustration is unprecedented” among the region’s people.
Ahmed Shafiq was the last prime minister to serve under ousted president Mubarak and like his former boss is a product of Egypt’s powerful military machine.
Shafiq, who was air force chief of staff until 2002, was almost disqualified from the presidential race after the adoption of a law prohibiting senior members of the Mubarak era from running, but the decision was reversed at the last minute.
His campaign shifted to a higher gear in recent weeks, with huge portraits of him in a suit taking up the top spots of many buildings in Cairo and across the country.
With a reputation as a good technocrat, Shafiq, 70, was appointed prime minister during Mubarak’s last days in power in a bid to appease the popular revolt that eventually overthrew the strongman on Feb. 11, 2011.
But the former general has been criticized for his association with the old regime and for having retained many Mubarak ministers in his cabinet, a decision which would force him to resign a month later under pressure from youth movements who spearheaded the uprising.
Like Mubarak, Shafiq was a pilot who graduated from the Military Aviation Academy and touts his many military successes -- his campaign recently boasted that he shot down two Israeli planes in wars with the Jewish state.
He is also eager to highlight his civilian achievements, saying he modernized the national carrier Egyptair and Cairo’s international airport.
In a country where all presidents since the fall of the monarchy in 1952 have hailed from military backgrounds, Shafiq says he is “proud and honored” to be a “son of the armed forces.”
He believes that one of his strongest assets is in fact this military background, which he says will be crucial in ensuring a smooth relationship with the ruling military during the transition period.
But it could also be a disadvantage to a segment of the population who wants to see a clear separation between the presidency and the army.
Shafiq boasts of his “experience” and insists he is open to criticism, but in several television interviews he has showed a strict and impatient side.
To those who accuse him of being a “feloul” -- a pejorative term used by Egyptians to describe members of the old regime -- he says that he was only “one of the (people) chosen for vital positions.”
“Who said I was not opposing the Mubarak regime?” he said, claiming to have objected to many decisions taken by the former regime and insisting he was more useful to his country by working for reform from the inside.
Shafiq has made security and the fight against crime his top priority.
If elected, he said, he is prepared to appoint an Islamist vice president, whether from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood or the more hardline Salafi parties.
Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist inspired by late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose “Free Officers” overthrew King Farouk in 1952 and set up the system that has put military men in the presidency for the past 60 years. He is a former member of parliament and long-time activist.
Any conversation about Sabbahi usually begins with reference to his audacious face-to-face dress-down of then-President Anwar al-Sadat in 1977, when the latter decided to conduct a series of town hall meetings at universities to prove his openness to dialogue. Then a student of mass communications and president of the student union at Cairo University, Sabbahi criticized Sadat over his departure from Nasserism (following the socialist ideologies of Abdul Nasser) and shift towards neo-liberalism, as well as the seemingly decreasing support for the Palestinian cause.
Since 1977, Sabbahi has been an omnipresent opposition figure in Egyptian politics. In 1979, he was imprisoned along with other prominent leftist activists for being one of the instigators of the bread riots that saw widespread demonstrations against inflated prices of staple goods. It would be the first of a series of detentions, the last of which was in 2003, when Sabbahi was arrested for protesting Egypt’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Through his membership of the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party, Sabbahi stayed active in politics. He emerged as a leader within the Nasserist current after leaving the party in 1996 — claiming it has become obsolete — and forming the Karama party on similar ideological grounds. Until the 25 January revolution, Karama was not recognized as an official political party for espousing what the Mubarak regime considered a radical ideology. Meanwhile, Sabbahi ran for and was seated in parliament as an independent from 2000 to 2010.
In 2005, he joined a group of activists and intellectuals to form the Kefaya movement which led a wave of protests against the rule of Mubarak and the grooming of his son, Gamal, to take over the presidency. As a founding member of a group, which is considered one of the direct precursors to the Jan. 25 revolution.
Nasserists generally hold a tough line towards Israel. In 2008, Sabbahi was one of the first Egyptian parliamentarians to go to the Gaza Strip on an official visit highlighting the need for more support and to call for the end the Israeli siege of the area.
Born in 1954 to a rural family from the village of Balteem in Kafr al-Sheikh in northern Egypt, Sabbahi has always fashioned himself as a man of the people. His electoral slogan is “one of us.”
“I would uphold Nasser’s principles on social justice while pushing for a completely democratic system that clearly defines — and limits — the role of the president,” Sabbahi said in a January 2012 interview with the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute.
(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)