This is an archived article that was published on in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CAIRO, Egypt - This is a campaign season of surprises - except for the outcome.

Egypt's first open experiment with democracy - a swift 19-day presidential campaign for a six-year term of office - is almost sure to return President Hosni Mubarak to office, cementing a three-decade rule. His confident broad-jowled visage overwhelms the skyline these days, peering from banners flapping from rooftops, billboards and lampposts.

Yet the three weeks of politicking leading to national polls today may have forever changed how about 77 million people consider political debate in Egypt as well as the country's political horizons.

For the first time, state-run television opened its studios to challengers. Candidates rallied crowds who were left untouched, during this special electoral time, by the truncheons of state security agents. People felt free enough to complain aloud about the creaky state of the Egyptian economy and the waste and corruption hidden in the state budget.

The exercise encouraged potential voters, in public and private ways, to gauge their own powerlessness and the dark side of an opaque system.

Voters' lists - said to contain the names of 32 million people - are secret and roundly disputed by the opposition. Voter registration remains a cumbersome process for many people - those born before 1982 - who must register at local police stations. Egyptians born after that benefit from automatic registration.

In dozens of interviews over the past week, many Egyptians said they want to vote. Few knew if they were registered. None wished to approach police, dreaded in many communities, to find out.

''I mean, it's change. That's good," said tax supervisor Mohamed Letwali during a rally held by the largest opposition group, Al-Wafd Al-Jadid or New Delegation Party. ''But most people really don't know what democracy is,'' he said, echoing sentiments from dozens of Egyptians asked about the election. ''Just look at the banners. People are scared to put up any banners but [those of] Mubarak.''