Now that the votes have been cast, Egyptians are holding their breath. They are not alone; the entire Arab nation and others in the region are also fixated with the outcome of the presidential election. None dare to ignore the potential consequences after the region's largest country has regained its national dignity and resumed its historic leadership role.
This is the third time that Egyptians have gone to the polls since the revolution of 2011, which brought an end to one of the world's most entrenched dictatorships. On every occasion, they embraced their democratic mission with a clear sense of purpose, pride and passion.
If there was worldwide interest in the earlier parliamentary elections, there is even more interest in this presidential version. The process of transition to democratic rule would not have been complete with the former and, although the secularist and liberal parties were eclipsed in the parliamentary vote, the presidential elections have, thus far, seen an attempted return by persons who many Egyptians regard as agents of the old regime. This in itself has made the elections all the more intriguing.
The stakes could not be higher. Because of Egypt's sheer size, its strategic position, ancient history and civilisation, the result of the presidential election will resonate across the region. As it stands, the race has boiled down to a contest between the influential Islamist candidates and the alleged agents of the Mubarak regime purportedly backed by the military, the intelligence apparatus and the bureaucracy.
Whoever emerges victorious will carry the burden of hope of Egyptians as well as the Arab nation. More immediately, though, he will have to resolve the tensions between the incongruous centres of power represented by the presidency, the parliament, the military and the judiciary. In fact, the multi-layered problems are compounded by the fact that the amended constitution is yet to be ratified. That should be expedited as a priority in order to define inter-institutional powers and relationships.
With the empowerment of parliament, representing the will of the people, the chance of another pharaoh ever emerging to rule Egypt has been reduced. In the current circumstances, this could only be achieved if there is a working understanding between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the military, which lorded over the executive throughout the past sixty years. Nobody wants that to happen.
Once these initial stumbling blocks are removed, the transition process should be well on track. And no one can begrudge the Egyptian people credit for their achievement; they have only got this far through their sacrifice of endless blood, sweat and tears. Indeed, they waited for decades to have this opportunity, forging a new consciousness and exercising their will to elect their president. Needless to say, this is the first time in living memory that they have gone to the polls without knowing beforehand who the winner will be. However, they aspire to more than having a free vote; rightfully, they want to be part of the process of change that leads to economic development and social justice. It was never decreed that their fate should be one of subservience and dependency.
Egypt's presidential election is not the end of the process; rather, is can be described as the end of the beginning. The country's new leaders will need time to reform the political system, kick-start the economy, develop human resources and empower their people. In other words they will have to put into effect the revolution's popular slogan, "Egypt for the Egyptians". Hence, the new president – unlike the deposed dictator – will not be allowed to franchise Egypt's national interests and wealth to Israel or any other power broker.
Clearly, history and geography have imposed upon Egypt regional responsibilities which the new president will have to address. Nowhere will this be felt more than in Palestine and Israel, albeit for different reasons. Former Israeli ambassador to Cairo Yitzhak Levanon summed up his country's present anxieties when he said that if a member of the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency it would mean a merging of the executive and legislative in Egypt and this would not be good for democracy.
Even so, an ex-defence minister of Israel, Benyamin Ben Elizier, has advised his compatriots to adopt a more pragmatic approach. More specifically he said that they should begin a dialogue with the Brotherhood because they may well find themselves having to sit around the same table. Despite his close personal relationship with Mubarak, Ben Elizier acknowledges that the politics of the Middle East have changed and he urges the current Israeli leadership to do likewise.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, cannot imagine any scenario worse than the status quo ante. Not only did the Mubarak regime turn a blind eye on Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians, it even became complicit in some of them. Palestine remains the strategic northern belt of Egypt's national security. More important than security interests is the fact that Palestine's freedom is part of Egypt's freedom. For now, no one expects any major changes in Egypt's foreign policy, but at the very least everyone knows that the old policies cannot be allowed to continue. This is a new dawn; a new day.