Egyptians began voting Saturday in a presidential runoff between a conservative Islamist and Hosni Mubarak's ex-prime minister in an election once billed as the country's long-awaited shift to democracy but now clouded by pessimism over the future.
Whoever wins after two days of voting, Egypt's military rulers will remain at the helm, a sign of how Egypt's revolution has gone astray 16 months after millions forced the authoritarian Mubarak to step down in the name of freedom.
"We are forced to make this choice. We hate them both," said Sayed Zeinhom as he waited to vote at Cairo's Boulak el-Dakrour neighborhood.
The race between Ahmed Shafiq, a career air force officer like Mubarak, and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, a U.S.-trained engineer, has deeply divided the country after the stunning uprising that ousted Mubarak after 29 years in office and has left many disillusioned about the election's legitimacy.
Many voters felt that the choice no longer even mattered after a court ruling last week effectively ensured that the military generals who have ruled since Mubarak's ouster will continue to be in power.
The generals took over legislative powers after Egypt's highest court on Thursday ordered the dissolution of the parliament elected just six months ago, and the military made a de facto declaration of martial law, despite earlier promises to hand over power to the new president by July 1.
With no constitution or parliament, the president's powers are likely to be determined by a military with power to arrest civilians for crimes as minor as traffic obstruction.
To the activists behind the 18 days of mass protests that toppled Mubarak's regime, the election seemed a cruel joke that crushed their dream of a new Egypt -- free, democratic and rid of all traces of the old system.
"The revolution will continue and restore the right of those who died in the uprising," said Ziad el-Oleimi, an iconic figure of the anti-Mubarak revolt in which nearly 900 protesters were killed. "This election is essentially for the selection of a new dictator."
Shafiq, an admirer and a longtime friend of Mubarak, has campaigned on a platform of a return to stability, something that resonated with many Egyptians frustrated and fatigued by more than a year of deadly street protests, a faltering economy and surging crime.
Morsi marketed himself as a revolutionary who is fighting against the return of the old regime, promising guaranteed freedoms and an economic recovery, while softening his Islamist rhetoric in a bid to reassure liberals, minority Christians and women.
The balloting, which continues today, will produce Egypt's first president since the ouster of Mubarak, who is now serving a life sentence for failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising that toppled his regime.