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Egyptians, uneasy, go to the polls

CAIRO -- Millions of Egyptians will vote Monday in the first election since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, but the mood is somber.

Analysts say the haphazard parliamentary elections are the culmination of nearly 10 months of "colossal mismanagement" by Egypt's ruling military council, whose failure to push real democratic reforms leaves the Arab world's most populous nation with an unfinished revolution.

The disarray is a warning to other Middle Eastern nations in transition from authoritarian rule, analysts say.

The election for the 498-seat People's Assembly, parliament's lower chamber, will be held in three stages ending in January, when voting begins for the 390-seat upper chamber, also in three stages, to conclude in March. The first of the People's Assembly elections will be held Monday and Tuesday, followed by the remaining rounds on Dec. 14 and Jan. 3.

Behind the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' insistence on holding elections in a country that's hardly ready by security, political or logistical benchmarks is a fight for the preservation of six decades of military dominance over Egypt's political and economic life.

Nearly all of the nation's disparate revolutionary factions now describe the military as the biggest stumbling block to democratic civilian rule. But with elections proceeding and the generals trotting out another mostly toothless interim cabinet, it was unclear how the widening chasm between the generals and the revolutionaries could be bridged.

Not holding elections on time would have wrecked the schedule created by the council and forced the military to start anew, presumably with more input from outside players and new restrictions on virtually unchecked power. Still, under the current conditions, the incoming parliament will have little say over forming a cabinet or picking drafters of a new constitution.

"They're pushing for elections because they want to save themselves, but the elections themselves don't mean anything," said Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who has written extensively on the Egyptian military.

Chilly rains washed over the streets of Cairo last night, only adding to the collective gloom expressed by many of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters.

"The top concerns are lack of money, high, high inflation, a lack of employment and the struggle to find food," said Dalia Mogahed, director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, a polling house. With AP

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