Egyptians in Cairo and Alexandria went to the polls on 28 November to select parties and individual candidates for the country’s parliament in the first elections since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.

Voters in the Zamalek district of Cairo queued in their hundreds for their chance to vote. According to unemployed law graduate Mohamed, he waited about three hours. For women, the wait was longer at up to five hours. “I came to vote to choose a party that will create jobs. I am a law graduate. I graduated three years ago, but I have not had a job in this time,” says Mohamed.

“I will vote for Gamila Ismail because she will bring the Muslims and Christians together. She is highly educated, reasonable, liberal and moderate,” says one woman waiting to vote.

“I’m voting for the Egyptian Labour Party,” says Hend Hwaidak, a young Muslim woman waiting to vote in Zamalek, “Because they are the best new party. But it is very hard to choose a party. The television campaigns only started a week ago.”

Miriam, a young Egyptian from Zamalek says she will vote for parties in the centre-right of the political spectrum.

Many voters in Zamalek, both Muslim and Christian, stated their intention to vote for secular parties to retain the division between religion and state. However, the Islamist parties are expected to carry most of the votes.

“The Muslim Brotherhood are extremists. I would like a non-religious government. I would like the candidates to have debates like in the US. People need to form their own opinions,” says Madeline, a Christian graphic design student from Zamalek.

A young Christian waiting to vote in Zamalek says: “I am very worried. I don’t want this to be an Islamic country. The Muslim Brotherhood have just bought votes by giving the poor people cheap food.”

The story is different in the poorer Cairo area of Bolak Abu Ela at a polling station only 500 metres away.“I voted for the Muslim Brotherhood because they helped in reducing the price of products – for instance meat,” says a Muslim lady. “They provided meat that is usually EGP60 for EGP30. The party has a long history with the people.”

Another lady at the same polling station said that she voted for independent candidate Khaled Nadeem and the Muslim Brotherhood. “I want to see what they will do with the country. I want the government to create more jobs.”

Amr Gamel emerged from the polling station at the same time, saying he voted in the same way because “I trust the religious people. I want a country which is fair – where the judges are fair.”

Several young men at the polling station say they approve of sharia and respect the discipline of the Islamist parties. They would also like to see Egypt cut its relationship with Israel completely.

Some voters have placed more value on the process of voting rather than the choice of candidates. “We are learning democracy from day one,” says a woman waiting to vote in Zamalek. Wael Mohammed in Bolak Abu Ela agrees. “We are learning, but the confusion that exists has made it hard for us to choose.”

Most of the candidates are accompanied by a symbol, such as a mango fruit or candlestick to identify themselves on the ballot sheet. Such a system is “shameful” according to the graphic design student as it exposes the problems in Egyptian society as a huge proportion of the population is illiterate.

For some voters, familiarity is key. “I will vote for Mohamed Zaiki Abidin because he lives in my district and I know him very well,” says Huda Farouk Abdul Rahmin. A man at the same polling station says the same about another candidate, Karam Hussein: “I will vote for him because he lives near my home.”

“I want to vote for someone who will serve the people and who will be anti-corruption,” says a woman waiting to vote in Zamalek. Many voters cited the Waft’s party to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) and its legacy of corruption as the reason why they would not cast their votes for the party.

But a voter in Bolak Abu Ela says she had voted for the Waft party because it had the best policies for education, healthcare and affordable housing.

Meanwhile in Tahrir Square, many protesters continue to assert that free and fair elections are impossible while the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) is in charge. A bread seller outside Tahrir Square says he will not be voting, as the Scaf leaders are fooling the people with these elections and he will wait for true democracy before he casts a vote.

Many Egyptians believe those willing to boycott the elections will be in the minority, “I doubt there will be too many people boycotting,” says one voter in Zamalek. “It is not true that the military council is rigging the elections. Let’s have a bit of trust.”

“I agree that it could all be fake,” says another voter, “but we have to do it anyway.” Amr Gamel in Bolak Abu Ela believes the elections will be “100 per cent” free and fair.