Why is the Egyptian presidential election important?

This is Egypt’s first competitive presidential election in modern history. For the first time, Egyptians will get to choose who leads, and people have a choice of 13 candidates. The result will also play a major role in shaping Egypt’s future. Who becomes president will be a determining factor in the role of the military leadership in Egypt’s future, the role of religion and its foreign relations with major allies such as the United States.

Who are the front-runners?

The race is shaping up to be a battle between Hosni Mubarak-era figures and Islamists:

Amr Moussa, the 75-year-old former Arab League chief and former foreign minister under Mubarak, has consistently performed well in domestic and international polls. Moussa touts himself as a vote for stability and experience. He left Mubarak’s government 10 years before the revolution, but revolutionaries still see him as a member of a repressive ruling elite. He is popular among moderate Muslim Egyptians, Christian voters and Egyptians who long for stability after a year of tumult.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a 60-year-old moderate Islamist who was imprisoned under the Mubarak regime. Aboul Fotouh was a progressive leader in the Muslim Brotherhood until he severed ties to run for president. Revolutionaries see him as a voice of change and reform; the ultraconservative Salafist party, Nour, has endorsed him. Fotouh has touted himself as a unifier of the most conservative and liberal parts of society. But some liberal and leftist voters, as well as Coptic Christians, fear that Aboul Fotouh’s message will become more hard-line now that the Salafists are behind him.

Mohammed Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. Morsi was a largely unknown figure until he was pushed into the spotlight when the Brotherhood’s top choice for the position, chief financier and strategist Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified. Morsi was the head of the Brotherhood’s political party before resigning to run in the election. He does not have the same political gravitas or charisma as Shater, and analysts say his chances of winning are not as high. But Morsi is backed by the most organized and far-reaching political force in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing dominates Egypt’s newly elected parliament. Morsi has been appealing to conservative Muslim voters by preaching hard-line support for Islamic law and touting himself as the only candidate who will enforce God’s law.

●Ahmed Shafiq, 71, was Mubarak’s last prime minister before Mubarak was pushed out of office on Feb. 11, 2011. Shafiq resigned as prime minister less than a month later. Revolutionaries accuse the former commander in the Egyptian air force of being a holdover from Mubarak’s government and complicit in the corruption and repression. He is well liked by Egyptians who are tired of protests and uncertainty or afraid of the rise of Islamists. He is widely seen as the military’s candidate.

●Hamdeen Sabahi, 57, is the head of the Nasserist Dignity Party and was part of the opposition under Mubarak’s rule. The populist is an Arab nationalist in the vein of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led Egypt's  revolution and military coup in 1952. Sabahi is seen as the dark horse in the race, drawing votes from Egyptians who do not want an Islamist or a secular leader with links to Mubarak’s government. Sabahi is the only candidate among the top contenders who fits that criteria, and his campaign slogan is "one of us," to drive home his man-of-the-people persona. Sabahi is running as an independent and not as the head of his party.  

How will the election work?

There are about 52 million eligible voters in Egypt. Egyptians will have two days, Wednesday and Thursday, to choose from 13 candidates. If no candidate gets an outright majority, the top two vote-getters will compete in a run-off June 16 and 17. The winner of the run-off will become Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president and will take office before July 1. The military rulers, who are governing in the interim, are supposed to step down and hand executive power to the elected president, but some people worry that they will try to retain some power behind the scenes.

How soon will we know who won?

According to the presidential electoral commission, vote counting will be complete for the first round Saturday. All complaints and objections must be submitted by Sunday. By Tuesday, after looking into the objections, the commission will announce the results. If the election goes to a runoff, which it most likely will, the commission will count the votes by June 18, take complaints June 19 and make the final announcement of the winner June 21. In Egypt, things are subject to change and the results could be announced later if there are unforeseen circumstances.

What are the powers of the president?

Because Egyptian politicians have been unable to draft a new constitution, the new president will have vast powers similar to those Mubarak used to run the country as a police state. Parliament is expected to appoint a committee that will draft a new constitution later in the year, and that process will determine whether Egypt remains a system with a strong presidency or one in which parliament has greater authority.