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Egypt opens first free elections

Egypt has officially started the process of holding its first-ever free presidential elections with candidates able to submit their applications.

But already the much-anticipated presidential race has been marred by intense speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most powerful political group, is working behind the scenes with the country's ruling military generals to come up with a consensus candidate to run in the election.

Politicians from the era of deposed president Hosni Mubarak, ex-military officers, and moderate and hardline Islamists are expected to be the front-runners in a vote slated for May 23 and May 24.

The election follows decades of authoritarian rule in which all of the country's presidents were elevated from the ranks of the military and usually approved by referendum.

Mubarak, who was forced to step down last year after an 18-day mass uprising, was elected to his last term in 2005. Those were Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential elections but they were rigged.

The country's ruling military council, which took over power after Mubarak's fall, pledged to transfer power to elected civilian authorities after the new president is announced June 21.

The revolutionary youth movement that led the uprising performed poorly in the first post-revolution parliamentary elections that ended in January. Many in the movement are fearful that the generals will try to keep their grip on power after a new president is inaugurated by helping push forward a candidate they find amenable.

Such worries escalated with recent media reports claiming that the generals have negotiated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist bloc that holds the near-majority of seats in parliament, to produce a "consensus president."

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most powerful political group, denied the reports but this has not quieted the fears that the group would throw its massive backing behind a nominee approved by the generals, who would then presumably steamroller any other candidate.

The Brotherhood has not announced which candidate it will support but has pledged in the past not to back present or even former Brothers - a stance viewed an attempt to assure liberals, secularists and western allies worried that Egypt is becoming too Islamic.

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