"This is definitely the big event" on Egypt's way toward its own form of democracy.
That's how NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson summed up the news earlier on Morning Edition as she reported from Cairo about the opening day of the first free presidential elections in a nation that just a little more than a year ago was in the throes of a revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
"This is the chance," she added, for Egyptians "to actually have a say in who runs this nation. ... That's all people are talking about."
That's not to say everything is going to go exactly the way democracy advocates would wish. As The Associated Press writes, "the two-day vote will bring down the final curtain on decades of authoritarian rule, although concerns remained that the nation's military rulers who took over after Mubarak would try to retain influence."
In The Guardian, freelance writer and former BBC Arab affairs analysit Magdi Abdelhadi says that "the fact that a candidate [from] the ancien regime, Field Marshal Ahmed Shafiq, was allowed to stand in itself shows that the Egyptian revolution still has a long way to go." And, he adds that "Amr Moussa, the septuagenarian former foreign minister and secretary-general of the Arab League, who now presents himself as pro-youth and democracy, never had the guts to challenge Mubarak publicly."
But as al-Jazeera reports, Egyptians appear to be enthusiastically embracing the chance to express their views: "Fifty million people are eligible to cast their ballots, and voter turnout was expected to be high as two days of voting began on Wednesday. Voters had already formed lines outside some polling stations before they opened at 8 a.m. local time."
The AP reminds us that:
"Thirteen candidates were contesting the election, with four front-runners either from Mubarak's regime or from its traditional opponent, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. No outright winner is expected to emerge, so a runoff between the two top finishers will be held June 16-17. The winner will be announced on June 21."
As for the ramifications of the results, the wire service adds that "many candidates have called for amendments in Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which remains deeply unpopular. None is likely to dump it, but a victory by any of the Islamist or leftist candidates in the race could mean strained ties with Israel and a stronger stance in support of the Palestinians in the peace process."