In a white turban and grey gallabiya, Hommus Ibrahim, 71, is voting in a free presidential poll for the first time in his Egyptian village, where people say they want jobs, security and education.
“I hope that there will be major changes, that the new president will take concrete measures so that people can have access to clean water, education, a good health care system,” the old man said before climbing the stairs leading to the voting station in a school here.
The Nile Delta school, where walls are faded and floors and toilets dirty to the point of being unhygienic, is a testament to a grave lack of investment in education in Egypt, where nearly 40 percent of the population is illiterate.
To ensure that every citizen can vote without someone’s help, the long list of presidential candidates, printed in colour, features not only the names of the hopefuls, but also photos of each as well as their “symbol.”
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi is represented by the scales, while former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Mussa’s symbol is the sun.
Voters are required only to place a tick or cross in the box by their chosen candidate, before depositing their ballot and plunging a finger into indelible ink, to ensure no one can vote more than once.
Samira Said Mohammed, her face wrapped in a black scarf, said she had voted for Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.
She expressed hope that Shafiq could “solve the numerous problems” of Egypt.
“Many people are unemployed and the youth who graduate from university or school can’t find work,” she said angrily, standing next to a 20-year-old woman who said she had been unemployed since graduating two years earlier.
Unemployment, which stood at nine percent under Mubarak, according to official figures, has been around 12 percent since the January-February 2011 uprising, with nearly a quarter of young people out of work.
Samira’s husband earns around 20 pounds a day (2.60 euros) when he can find farmwork, while she can earn 150 pounds a week doing housework.
Daily life is hard, with five mouths to feed, but she says her situation is far from the worst she knows of.
A few steps way, Sherdah Farag is eager to show off his tiny shop set up on the street, where he repairs tyres.
“I hope a new era will come. Mubarak took all the country’s money,” he said.
“Some days I earn nothing, sometimes I earn 10 pounds, sometimes 20. I’m waiting for a new president who can give everyone work,” he said, stressing that he struggles to feed his five children.
Suddenly, shouts erupt, cutting through the previous calm of the voting process, where discussions had been taking place in lowered voices.
Liberal MP Amr Hamzawi, who was there as an observer, has torn down a campaign poster outside the polling station, citing the “campaign silence” that began 48 hours before the polls opened and continues while votes are being cast.
In response, another man insists that posters for other candidates also be torn down, and tempers quickly flare before bystanders manage to bring the situation under control.
In the streets of the village, where at least half the residents are farmers or labourers, motorcycles cross paths with residents on donkeys. Children can be seen walking in the rubbish-strewn streets without shoes on.
Sitting in front of his fabric shop, Reda Rashad, his forehead marked with a “zebiba” — a dark mark from repeated prayer prostrations — called for the return of security.
He says he can no longer leave his house after dark for fear of theft or the violence that has multiplied since the uprising, and said he hopes that “the new president will change everything.”
“I haven’t seen anything change so far.”