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Polls close after first day of Egyptian elections

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 29, 2011 -- Updated 0004 GMT (0804 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Polls have closed in the first day of parliamentary elections
  • Election official: Some "reports of irregularities" are due to polls opening late
  • "This is the first time in 55 years that I (can) vote," one man says
  • Several stages of voting will take place between now and March

Cairo (CNN) -- Egyptian election officials sealed ballot boxes with candle wax Monday after the first day of the country's parliamentary elections.

Long lines of voters streamed into polling places for the historic vote -- the first since an improbable revolt toppled one of the world's longest-serving rulers.

Streets that saw violence just days ago were largely calm, and the atmosphere was celebratory as voters cast their ballots in the first round of elections to decide who will sit in the upper and lower houses of Parliament. The lower house will be tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution.

"This is the first time in 55 years that I (can) vote," said Sharif Shinawi, a 55-year-old businessman. "It was never in the history of Egypt, since Adam and Eve, that we've had this opportunity. I am willing to wait 10 hours, or until tomorrow morning if I have to, but I will vote."

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In Cairo's el Manial neighborhood, Mohamed Rida'a Mohamed Abdulla beamed as he left a polling station.

"Before, there was always cheating. Now, I could be wrong, but I think my vote will count," the electrical engineer said. He said he refused to vote for members of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's disbanded National Democratic Party, and he said he also wouldn't vote for the Muslim Brotherhood -- "even though I have a beard and I am a very good Muslim. I voted for a middle party."

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Meanwhile, peaceful crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters have demanded change since early this year. They overthrew Mubarak in February -- a major victory in the Arab Spring uprisings -- and are now calling for his military replacements to step aside.

Problems surfaced at some polling areas, however, including the late opening of polling stations, unstamped ballots and a delay in the arrival of ballots. State TV reported that 25 people were injured in election-related violence.

A total of 700 complaints were filed, according to Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of Egypt's election committee.

Fliers supporting various parties were handed out in parts of Cairo in violation of election laws. Some people standing in line used them to fan themselves.

"Yes, there have been some limited reports of campaigning outside polls, which is illegal, but the military contained the situation and stopped them or confiscated their campaigning material," said Ibrahim, who promised a smoother process on Tuesday.

Tensions flared in Assiut, where gunshots were fired and a highway was blocked by supporters of a candidate who had been banned from running, Egypt's Interior Ministry said.

Activist Yousri Kamal said ballots had still not arrived at one polling station in Cairo hours after polls opened.

"Many people are angry and are starting to leave," he said.

Some 50 million people are eligible to take part in the historic election.

On the eve of Monday's vote, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- Egypt's current ruling body -- urged Egyptians head to the polls.

"Please go and vote because we want a Parliament that is well balanced from all the parties and groups," Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said. "The elections will not be successful until everyone who has a right to vote participates. Egypt is at a critical crossroads. It either succeeds, or Egypt will face dire consequences."

Egyptian voters abroad have already cast their ballots, said Ambassador Ahmed Ragab, assistant to the foreign minister of Egypt. From November 23 to 27, seventy percent of Egyptians abroad voted at embassies, he said.

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Elections for the lower house are scheduled to take place in three stages, the last one of which is set for January. Upper house elections will run between January and March.

Voters have dozens of political parties and thousands of independent candidates to choose from. The once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, one of the nation's largest organizations, is expected to perform well in the election.

But not everyone was convinced that voting was the right solution.

"There is no inclination that the judiciary is independent, so there is no way to prove the election will be free and fair," said Amr Hamzawy, a 32-year-old shopkeeper.

Egypt TV reported that 33 candidates from the revolution that ousted Mubarak have withdrawn their candidacy in protest of the current political circumstances.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said presidential elections would be held by June. Military leaders say they will hand over power to a new government when one is elected. But some fear the military will cling to power.

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Monday's polling took place after days of demonstrations calling for an immediate end to military rule.

At least 42 people have been killed in clashes over the past two weeks, including at least 33 in Cairo. An additional 3,250 have been wounded, according to the Health Ministry.

"I fought for these elections in Tahrir Square and even got shot, but I am boycotting them completely. I don't trust the military one bit. ... It's a farce, and more people will die in the next two days," said Omar Ahmed, a taxi driver.

But the streets of Cairo were generally calm Monday.

"Every Egyptian has become politicized," artist Ibrahim Abdel Minsif said. "We are all faithful to our country. The proof is that we're all standing in one line, talking politely to one another, because we all agree that this is the best way to deal with our problems."

CNN's Ben Wedeman and Ivan Watson and journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Ian Lee contributed to this report.

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