Egyptians stood patiently in their millions outside polling stations on Saturday, shielding themselves from soaring heat and earnestly debating the future of an ancient nation free to elect its leader for the first time.
They bubbled with hopes and fears fuelled by their overthrow last year of Hosni Mubarak, by the power of his fellow generals now promising to usher in democracy and by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement freed from decades of clandestine opposition to challenge for control.
"We've got our country back," said Yasser Ali, 45, a day labourer in the industrial city of Mansoura, on the Nile Delta between Cairo and the Mediterranean. "We want stability after a year and a half of troubles," he added, saying he would go in and vote for Islamist Mohamed Morsy, "because he is not from the old regime and ... the Brotherhood is strong and organised".
Passing on his bicycle, Farghali Mohamed, a 61-year-old shoeshine man, shouted out his support for Morsy's rival, former general and Mubarak ally Ahmed Shafik: "Shafik isn't a thief," he said. "Not everyone who worked with Mubarak is corrupt."
He doubted Morsy's ability to run the economy and mocked the Brotherhood's tactics. "One guy gave me a pen and told me to vote for Morsy. I told him 'This is my vote and I'm free to do what I want with it'. Shafiq will pay me my pension."
For many Egyptians, though, the run-off has left them an unpalatable choice between two extremes since the elimination of several popular candidates in last month's first round: "Both are useless," said Hassan al-Shafy, a 33-year-old tax officer in Mansoura. "But we must choose one of them, unfortunately."
Expanding on his dilemma, he said he was coming to the conclusion he should go in and vote - but for neither man: "Each one is affiliated with a different bloc. We don't want to be divided into blocs ... I am thinking of spoiling my vote."
Further north, in the port of Alexandria where the death in police custody of young activist Khaled Said stoked the anger that erupted against Mubarak, voters in one women-only line were also going over their choices while waiting in the hot sunshine:
"I will vote for Mohamed Morsy so we can try out the Brotherhood," said Sumaya Mustafa, 42, a teacher who wore the full-face veil favoured by some pious Muslims. "There's no point in people choosing someone who was part of the old regime."
But, Lillian Victor, a 35-year-old engineer, reflected the concerns of her fellow Christians, who fear Islamist prejudice against them: "I voted for Ahmed Shafik," she said as she came out, "Because I fear a religious state. What Morsy has said is frightening and it is clear he will start harassing people."
Ibtisam Ahmed, 35, wanted precisely the opposite: "I will vote for Morsy because he will make an Islamic state," she said.
That provoked an outburst down the line from Umm Yasser, 71: "Don't mention Morsy to me!" she scoffed. "I voted for him in the first round but I won't now - because it is clear he's got himself very worked up and we need a president who is calm."
LONGING FOR STABILITY
A need to repair a country suffering from decades of poor economic management and 16 months of political turmoil that has wrecked the vital tourist trade was uppermost in many minds.
"If Morsy gets in, he'll turn Egypt into an Islamist religious state which would kill our tourism and prevent foreigners coming to Egypt," said Cairo cab driver Mohammed Abdelrahim, 37, who confessed to having mixed feeling about the whole uprising which he had supported during the Arab Spring.
"I was with the revolution," he said, recalling the days when the people confronted Mubarak's forces on Cairo's Tahrir Square. "But now I miss the days of Hosni Mubarak because of the situation we've ended up having - no work, a lack of security."
For some, the Brotherhood's many decades of clandestine opposition, and its strong sense of internal discipline and loyalty left them uneasy: "With Shafik, I know what policy he is going to pursue," said Cairo cook, Walid Farouq, 42. "But Morsy is enigmatic and shadowy like their whole underground group."
Emad, a 39-year-old manager voting in the middle-class Cairo neighbourhood of Nasser City, said he had been persuaded by Shafik, who was a minister, and latterly prime minister, under Mubarak: "I have listened to him on talk shows and he seems to be a decent man. I don't think he'll bring back the old regime.
"Shafik will answer critics with logical arguments, while Morsy will answer with the Koran and you can't argue with that."
SAVING THE REVOLUTION
In Alexandria, Fatima, 29, voted in the first round for a moderate Islamist and could not now bring herself to choose Shafik, despite misgivings about the Brotherhood: "Morsy is the last bulwark of the revolution against the old regime, whose candidate is Shafik. If Shafik gets in, the chaos will go on."
Salesman Sayed Desouki in Mansoura felt much the same way: "I'm voting for Morsy because he is the last breath of the revolution," he said. "He is all that's left of it." Also voting there was Mohamed Abdel Manei, 30, an engineer: "You either go back to how you were before or you change," he said. "I'm voting for Morsy because he's the one who can make things change."
Amin al-Baz, who lost a son during fighting with Mubarak's forces in Mansoura last year, said: "I will vote for Morsy to stop the candidate of the old regime coming back. I want the next president to stand up for the rights of those who died and to open new prosecutions of the guilty with new evidence."
South of Cairo, in the city of Fayoum, labourer Sherif Abdel Aziz, 25, said: "I'm not Brotherhood but a thousand youths did not die in the revolution so the old regime can come back. If Shafik wins I'll be the first to march with people to Tahrir."
Whoever wins faces monumental problems: for Shafik, anger in the streets, for Morsy, a less than cooperative military elite.
Ashraf Rashwan, 45, a businessman in the New Cairo district, said hostility to the Brotherhood among the generals, who retain power and vast business interests, meant they could not govern: "They'll get no cooperation from the establishment. If Morsy wins, there will be a struggle that Egyptians - me at any rate - aren't ready for," he said. "Shafik will mean smooth transition. He's learned from Mubarak's failure to listen to the people."
Others thought their vote could balance out the two forces.
IT technician Ahmed Attiya, 35, in Cairo's upscale Zamalek neighbourhood had planned to vote Shafik - until the military council dissolved the new, Brotherhood-led parliament last week: "I changed my mind and will vote Morsy," he said. "There is no more fear of the Islamists dominating everything. My conscience is easier voting for Morsy, now that there is no parliament.
"Shafik represents a counter-revolution."
Not everyone in Egypt, where millions embraced the novelty of a free vote with gusto, offered such cogent reasons, though; in Mansoura, 52-year-old lab technician Mohamed Ahmed was basing his choice on an idiosyncratic reading of Islamic precepts:
"Morsy is married but Shafik's wife is dead," he said. "Since marriage is half our religion, I will vote for Morsy."
(Reporting by Edmund Blair, Samia Nakhoul, Yasmine Saleh, Marwa Awad and Dina Zayed in Cairo, Tamim Elyan, Tom Perry in Fayoum, Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria; Writing by Alastair Macdonald in Cairo; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)