Egyptians swarmed to the ballot box peacefully in their first election since a popular revolt toppled Hosni Mubarak, confounding fears of violence after a week of riots in which 42 people were killed.
Voting continues for a second day on Tuesday, after high turnout and a peaceful atmosphere on Monday in a parliamentary election that could loosen the army's grip on power and sweep long-banned Islamists into the legislature.
The military will retain executive power for now, but the election will resuscitate a parliament that had acted as no more than a rubber stamp for Mubarak, who choked political life during his 30-year tenure.
Power will be in the hands of the political forces. Real politics will be in the hands of the parliament, said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian political analyst.
The United States, which has urged its longtime allies in Egypt's military to make way swiftly for civilians rule, said early reports on the first day of voting were quite positive.
The peaceful voting was a happy outcome after a week of clashes between police and demonstrators seeking an end to military rule turned central Cairo into a battleground resembling the scenes during the uprising against Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood's party and other Islamists expect to do well in the parliamentary election, but the outcome is difficult to predict under a complex and unfamiliar voting system of party lists and individual candidates. Voting will be staggered over the next six weeks.
Political transformation in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, will reverberate across the Middle East, where a new generation demanding democratic change has toppled or challenged the leaders of Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Parliament's lower house will be Egypt's first nationally elected body since Mubarak's fall and those credentials alone may enable it to dilute the military's monopoly of power.
The generals are already under pressure from young Egyptians
who have returned to the streets in frustration at the slow pace of the transition to democracy. The movement led by protesters camped out in Tahrir Square is unlikely to disappear soon.
LAYERS OF TENSION
A parliament with a popular mandate could compete for authority with politician Kamal Ganzouri, named last week by the army's ruling council to head a cabinet, which he hopes to unveil by Thursday.
There is a chance of tension between parliament and Ganzouri, and the military council, and between all three of these and the revolutionary factions in the Egyptian squares, said Egyptian political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.
Despite a host of reported electoral violations and lax supervision exploited by some groups, election monitors reported no systematic Mubarak-style campaign to rig the polls.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist rivals made sure their party workers were on hand outside polling stations to nudge confused voters towards their candidates.
At least they are not giving people fruit inside the polling station, said Mouna Zuffakar, of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, noting widespread breaches of a ban on campaigning near polling stations.
Long lines failed to deter many Egyptians who believed their votes would matter for the first time in their lives.
We must take part, we must vote, even if we stand here for five hours, so that Egypt can go forward, said Hoda Abdel Hamid, 43, queuing in Cairo's working-class Shubra district.
I am voting for the future of my children.
(Editing by Peter Graff)