CAIRO -- With only two days before the final vote in Egypt's first-ever presidential election, the former revolutionaries who helped make this moment possible are reluctantly choosing sides in what some of them have called "a choice between cholera and the black plague."
The two final candidates -- Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force officer who served as former President Hosni Mubarak's final prime minister, and Mohammed Morsi, a representative of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood -- represent opposing extremes of a political divide that has increasingly left secular revolutionaries paralyzed in the middle.
"We have to choose between a blood dealer or a religion dealer," shouted a middle-aged woman at a supporters' debate on Wednesday night, pointedly summing up the feelings of many activists.
After his triumph in last month's round of presidential voting, Shafik infamously declared that "the revolution is over," and many fear that his election would represent little more than the continued rule of the old regime.
Those fears were stoked by the announcement on Wednesday that Egyptian military and intelligence services would be given wider powers to arrest civilians. Human rights activists told the Associated Press that the decision was "shocking" and tantamount to "living in a banana republic."
But the possible rise of Morsi, and his religiously inspired ideas of governance, inspires equal concern among the secular revolutionaries, who fear that personal freedoms could come under assault if he were to win the presidency. His candidacy has recently received backing from members of the far more conservative Salafist movement, whose Nour Party had backed former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in the first round.
According to the Guardian, concerns about overly religious rule prompted representatives of another Arab Islamist party to urge the Brotherhood to show restraint should Morsi win. A delegation from Tunisia's Ennahda Party -- which took power in October following the country's uprising against its own dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- flew to Cairo on Tuesday to argue for the benefits of power sharing and the need to "accept democracy within the form of Islam."
For his part, Morsi has attempted to appeal to the youths who took part in 2011's demonstrations and street battles, but the lack of a candidate with true revolutionary credentials has splintered that vote.
The confusion and frustration over the choice was on display in microcosm during the Wednesday debate, during which revolutionaries were split between supporting the two candidates or boycotting the elections entirely. At a bookstore in the upscale Maadi neighborhood, voters gathered for the event seemed to be primarily motivated by their disgust for the candidates, rather than their support for anyone in particular.
"I don't take the Brotherhood's side so much as I take the revolution's side," said a young man named Islam, representing Morsi in the debate. He said that while he had voted for Aboul Fotouh in the first round, he was backing Morsi in the run-off out of gratitude for the "heroic" efforts of the Brotherhood during the revolution.
A number of revolutionary groups had found themselves leaning toward Morsi out of a similar sense of allegiance to the days in Tahrir, when the Brotherhood played a supporting role.
The April 6th Ahmed Maher Front, a faction of the influential April 6th revolutionary movement, announced this week that it would back Morsi. In response, another offshoot of the movement, the April 6th Democratic Front, said that it would boycott the elections entirely in protest of both candidates. But according to Ahram Online, even the Democratic Front's decision was divisive, with 29 percent of the group voting in an online poll to endorse Morsi rather than remain on the sidelines.
But at the debate, Islam admitted that his vote was based overwhelmingly on his disdain for Shafik, whom he called the "sponsor" of violence against the Egyptian people. "If there were any other candidate against Shafik in the election, I would elect him," he said.
There are some, however, that feel the religion-based Brotherhood shouldn't come to power. "The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't belong to Egypt, they belong to themselves and their ideas," said another man, who said he would vote for Shafik simply to keep the religious group out of power.
But neither option satisfied Nour Ayman Nour, the son of prominent Egyptian politician Ayman Nour, who forcefully argued that the vote "took us back to square one, which is to choose between the old regime and the Brotherhood." He said that the only moral choice was to abstain and deny the military government legitimacy, earning nods even from the Morsi supporters.