Egyptians queued to choose a new leader on Saturday in the first free presidential election in their history, facing a stark choice between a conservative Islamist and a former military officer who served ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Reeling from a court order two days ago to dissolve a new parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, many question whether the wealthy generals who pushed aside their fellow officer Mubarak last year to appease the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring will honour a pledge to let civilians rule.
With neither a parliament nor a new constitution in place to define the president's powers, voting on Saturday and Sunday will not settle the matter, leaving 82 million Egyptians, foreign investors and allies in the United States and Europe unsure what kind of state the most populous Arab nation will be.
For those who preferred the secular centrists, leftists and moderate Islamists who lost in the first round, the two-man run-off leaves an unpalatable choice from the extremes.
Some of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters say they will despoil their ballots rather than back Ahmed Shafik, 70, a former air force commander who was Mubarak's last prime minister, or Mohammed Morsy, 60, of the Brotherhood, the clandestine enemy of army rule for six decades.
But many were determined to make their voice heard. Queues formed early at some polling stations as they opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) for the first of two days of voting. A result could be known as early Sunday night, after the second day's vote.
"I am going to vote for Shafik. He is a military man, ex-pilot and war commander. He has exactly what need in a leader. A strong military man to have a strong grip on the state and bring back security," said Hamdy Saif, 22, a student who like many Egyptians are desperate for order after Mubarak's overthrow.
There are signs of exasperation with the Brotherhood's push for power on the back of a revolt driven in its early stages by the secular, urban middle class may limit Morsy's ability to widen his appeal beyond the Brotherhood's disciplined ranks.
The Brotherhood had secure the biggest bloc in parliament that was elected in a vote that ended in January, and initially said they would not field a presidential candidate but then changed tack at the last minute.
The court ruling to dissolve parliament reverses those gain, and could help win some more sympathisers for the group.
"I was going to vote for Shafik but after parliament was dissolved, I changed my mind and will vote Morsy. There is no more fear of the Islamists dominating everything," said Ahmed Attiya, 35, a IT technician in Cairo's Zamalek district.
"Shafik represents a counter-revolution," he added.