Egyptians have begun voting in the first parliamentary elections since a popular uprising ended the 30-year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Voters stood in long lines early Monday, well before polling stations opened.
The complex, staggered polls to elect parliament’s lower house began in the main cities of Cairo and Alexandria as well as Luxor, Port Said and a number of other towns. A runoff for those areas is scheduled for December 5.
Egypt’s 27 provinces are voting in three separate rounds in a process that concludes in early January. Elections for the upper house will then take place, ending in March, after which the newly elected assembly will write a new constitution.
The head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said Sunday the country is at a crossroads and can choose either successful elections “leading Egypt towards safety” or face dangerous hurdles that the armed forces “will not allow.” He also warned of “extremely grave” consequences if the country’s current political turmoil does not end quickly.
Tantawi’s warning came as thousands of demonstrators filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square for another massive protest demanding that Egypt’s military immediately cede power to a “national salvation government” that would run the country until a president is elected.
A number of the revolutionary youth groups leading the protests have proposed that opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei head an interim civilian administration with deputies from across the political spectrum. The proposed body would replace the ruling military council in supervising Egypt’s transition to democracy.
ElBaradei said Saturday he would abandon his bid for Egypt’s presidency if formally asked to lead such a government.
Meanwhile, there has been another attack on a gas pipeline in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, just hours before the start of the polls. State-run news agency, MENA, reported saboteurs attacked a section of the pipeline about 60 kilometers west of the town of El-Arish early Monday.
This is the ninth time this year that saboteurs have targeted the pipeline which supplies natural gas to Israel and Jordan. The last attack was carried out on Friday.
Earlier this month, Egyptian police arrested a leading member of an armed Islamist group, Mohammed el-Tihi, suspected of several of the bombings.
Previous attacks have disrupted fuel supplies for weeks.
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.