Tense Egypt goes to polls today
Divided Egyptians go to the polls today to cast their first votes for a new parliament after the end of the 30-year rule of strongman Hosni Mubarak, forced from power last February in one of the seminal moments of the Arab Spring.
And facing a popular revolt, a defiant Egypt's army chief yesterday warned of "extremely grave" consequences if the country does not overcome its crisis.
Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi vowed to keep "troublemakers" away from meddling in today's parliamentary elections.
Protesters again gathered in Tahrir Square ahead of a planned "million-person march" called by The Revolution Youth Coalition to reject Ganzuri, a 78-year-old caretaker prime minister, appointed by the army.
Outside the square, the political leaders expected to shape the democratic future of the country of over 80 million people are locked in a fight for power with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).
In an effort to resolve the crisis, Tantawi called a meeting with all political party leaders and future presidential candidates, but it was boycotted by several leading figures.
Tantawi warned that no one would be allowed to pressure the armed forces and asked senior political leaders Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa for support.
"We are faced with enormous challenges and we will not allow any individual or party to pressure the armed forces," he told reporters, asking that ElBaradei and Mussa "support the government of Kamal al-Ganzuri."
The violence over the past week has cast a pall over the start of voting that was intended to usher in a new democratic era. More than 40 people were killed and around 2000 injured in the violence.
Today's poll marks the first step of an election timetable which lasts until March 2012 for six rounds of complicated voting and covers two houses of parliament.
Protesters fear the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) - which is headed by Tantawi and is overseeing the transition to democratic rule - is trying to retain power.
Mass demonstrations have been calling for military rule to end before parliamentary elections are held - although there also have been smaller gatherings expressing support for the country's interim military rulers.
There is also a division among the political parties with the Islamists favouring polls now while others supporting a later date.
Analysts say the vote is almost certain to proceed but the turnout is under question.
One thing is clear; Egypt remains a very, very divided country.