CAIRO (Reuters) - Some prayed for victory, others held their breath while waiting on Sunday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to hear who would be their next president - an Islamist who was jailed by Hosni Mubarak or a military man who had served the fallen autocrat.
Then news unimaginable a year a half ago reached the tens of thousands of people in the place where Egypt’s revolt began. The election committee had declared the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy victor. “God is greatest!” they shouted.
“The revolution is a success!” Ahmed Mostafa, a 23-year-old data analyst, cried above the din of ecstatic demonstrators who had gathered in the baking heat of a summer day to listen to the announcement, a full, nail-biting week after they cast ballots.
“I want to say one thing: the world must not be afraid of the Islamists. They will make Egypt a better place,” said Mostafa, tears of emotion welling up in his eyes.
For the first time in the history of a nation dating back thousands of years, ordinary Egyptians had picked their leader. In another first, Morsy had broken a six-decade-old tradition of presidents plucked from the senior ranks of the military.
“Speak and have no fear! The military must go!” the crowd chanted at the generals who took charge when Mubarak was overthrown in similar scenes of excitement on February 11, 2011.
Yet on the other side of the sprawling capital, the mood at a smaller demonstration could not have been more of a contrast.
Some were distraught, mourning the loss of their candidate Ahmed Shafik, the former air force commander who had been Mubarak’s last prime minister. He had promised to protect Egypt from being dragged back to the “dark ages” under Islamist rule.
“Save Egypt! The Brotherhood is going to ruin it!” chanted protesters, among several hundred in the Nasr City district of Cairo. Some wielded sticks, using them to hit cars which passed by waving flags to celebrate Morsy’s victory.
“There is no security in the country,” said 25-year-old Mohamed Nagi, voicing the concerns of many who backed Shafik.
“We are scared and the Brotherhood are not to be trusted.”
Some Shafik supporters told women who had their hair exposed that they would soon be forced to wear the Islamic veil, although Morsy said he would not impose such strictures and promised that Egyptians will be free to choose what they wear.
Morsy has pledged to unite the nation. But the election exposed deep divisions between Islamists rooting for Morsy and those backing Shafik to restore order or voting against putting a religious conservative in charge.
Those who voted for centrist candidates who lost in the first round were faced with a wrenching choice in the June 16-17 run-off between candidates from Egypt’s traditional rivals.
Many of those who opposed both candidates plastered their views across Twitter, one of the social media sites used to devastating effect by the Internet-savvy, secular-minded youths who galvanised the street to bring down Mubarak.
“My differences with the Brotherhood and my deep opposition to their politics aside, I am very happy Shafik lost! And must give Morsy a chance,” wrote actor Khaled Abul Naga.
Others were less charitable. “Congratulations, the deal is accomplished, Morsy president of Egypt,” wrote activist Mohamed Effat, voicing a popular view among critics of the Brotherhood who charged the group with cutting a deal with the army to win.
Many activists accuse the Brotherhood of being slow to join the anti-Mubarak protest and were angered when the 84-year-old group first secured more parliamentary seats than it said it wanted and then reneged on a promise not to run for president.
Some were swift to switch allegiances after a tactical vote to help Morsy beat his rival.
“We voted for Morsy reluctantly to prevent Shafik from coming in,” said youth activist Mohamed Abdel Latif, 28, who was out on the street in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city.
“Starting today we will oppose Morsy, and the Brotherhood must remember that they won because of us and they shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” he added.
Coptic Christians, one in every 10 Egyptians, are among those who had rallied behind Shafik and have been most fearful of Morsy.
“We are afraid, just like many moderate Muslims who worry about the identity of Egypt, which has always been home to all sects and religions,” said Ehab Aziz, head of the Coptic American Friendship League.
Another Christian, 29-year-old Joe Fahim, said he was not too worried, but added: “For most Copts though, it’s doomsday.”
Yet, back in Tahrir where the celebrations extended late into the night, many wanted to send a message that this was a victory for everyone in the nation of 82 million.
“The people will continue to achieve all the demands of the revolution, to bring down tyranny and give total freedom to the people - to make people the source of authority,” said Rida Abdel-Moneim, a 38-year-old Muslim preacher from Nile Delta.
Some were not diehard supporters of Morsy, but were instead desperate to see Shafik defeated. He had been branded by those in Tahrir as a one of the “feloul”, a derisive Arabic term used to describe “remnants” of Mubarak’s old order.
“I am hoping that Morsy will demonstrate that he deserves to be Egypt’s president, the hand that leads Egypt to success,” said Sayid Salah, 44-year-old football referee who had travelled to Cairo from the city of Minya to the south.
Many had been drawn to the square again to demand the army reverse its decision to dissolve the Islamist-led parliament elected in January and to demonstrate against the army’s decree to keep its hands on the reins of power while curbing the president’s remit.
A jubilant 44-year-old accountant from the Nile Delta city of Qalyubia, Khalid al-Ahmedi said: “The revolution will continue. It will achieve the people’s demands.”
Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo and Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alastair Macdonald