CAIRO -- As Egyptians went to the polls on Saturday morning to complete the first democratic presidential election in the country's history, none of the "unbridled jubilance" of past votes was evident in the streets. Instead, voters met the first hours of the runoff between former prime minister Ahmed Shafik and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi with small lines and little apparent enthusiasm for either of the two men.
The turnout for the first round of voting in May was just over 43 percent, a significant drop from the parliamentary elections of 2011. But across several neighborhoods in Cairo, voters said that Saturday's initial crowds were even smaller than those last month.
Around 40 men were lined up at 8 a.m. for the opening of a polling station in Shubra, a middle-class area of Cairo, but a truck driver named Ali predicted that "there will be less [attendance] because the people are divided."
"It's very weak," said Ziad Mahmoud, while waiting to vote in the wealthy neighborhood of Zamalek. A member of the election commission sitting nearby confirmed that voters, though shaded from the sun that made waiting in line an ordeal throughout the city, were arriving in much lower numbers than during the first round of elections.
At an elementary school on Gamal Hosny Street in downtown Cairo, three policemen and 10 soldiers in helmets and combat gear guarded a polling station that appeared completely empty of voters by mid-morning.
Alaa Mustafa, one of the handful of people to emerge from the school after voting, said that he had chosen Morsi in both rounds, but expected Shafik to win. Yet the 19-year-old student was upbeat about the prospect of a Shafik presidency, saying the former Air Force general should be given a chance to implement his policies if he wins.
"We'll see in four years. If he doesn't do [his plans], we'll go back to the square and demonstrate or not elect him again," he said.
That spirit of compromise seemed to be rare among Saturday morning's voters. Few expressed conviction in either one of the candidates, saying instead that they simply feared what would happen if their man lost.
Evelyne Scerbo voted for Shafik at a downtown school in the belief that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood would roll back individual freedoms. She sympathized with those who had boycotted the vote out of disgust at the choices available, saying, "I understand it perfectly … but I still believe we have to act. I'm not voting for anybody this time, I'm just voting for the less primitive one."
Another woman who was voting at the same school put the choice in even starker terms. "I'm against Islam," the young woman named Nadeen said. "The felool [people from the old regime] are better for me than the Brotherhood."
A Shafik voter nearby was simply unable to provide a reason for his choice. "It's really hard to tell you why. I don't know." His friend Ahmad Salamy, who supported Morsi, offered a reason: "Shafik has succeeded in making people scared of the Brotherhood."
In Shubra, Morsi supporter Khaled Abdel Latif said that "if Shafik wins, it will be like we did nothing."
With the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announcing that polling stations would stay open an extra hour until 9 p.m., many voters were hopeful that crowds would pick up in the evening when the temperature dropped. But across the political spectrum, few expressed any certainty about how the election and its aftermath would play out.
"We hope there will be stability," said an elderly woman voting downtown with her husband, "but God knows."