The presidential elections taking place Wednesday and Thursday in Egypt are viewed by most Arabic dailies as historic, and as such are appropriately given center stage on front pages.

“Egypt: excitement and apprehension accompany the first day of pluralistic presidential elections,” reads the headline of London-based liberal daily Al-Hayat, which features an image of veiled and unveiled women standing near a polling booth. The daily reports that one candidate, former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, broke the electoral rules by calling on Egyptians to vote for him during a conference Wednesday.

Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports that Shafiq was subjected to verbal abuses while waiting to vote, with some Egyptians even throwing shoes at him, a traditional Arab sign of contempt. “If it were not for the protection of the police, he may have been subjected to physical abuse,” commented the Al-Arabiya reported on a Cairo street.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London, juxtaposes a photo of modern and traditionally clad women waiting to vote with a photo of a smiling elderly villager who just has. “Egyptians vote in scores  in the first real presidential elections,” reads the headline. The daily reports that lines of voters stretched for hundreds of meters outside polling booths in a “civilized manner.”

“For the first time in the history of presidential elections in Egypt, the candidates stood in line with the voters to cast their ballots, refusing to cut the queues,” read the article.

“Egyptians elect their president in free elections for the first time; expectations of surprising results, and a postponement of the outcome to the second round,” reads the headline of Arab-nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The daily reports that only a limited number of incidents were recorded on Wednesday, and the turnout was high despite the intense heat and the fact that no vacation was given to state employees.

Establishment Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reports that army vehicles circled the streets of Egyptian cities with loudspeakers, encouraging Egyptians to leave their homes and vote. It adds that 10 revolutionary movements are boycotting the elections, dubbing them “a pathetic show” due to the heavy-handed control of the military.

Syria bleeds as opposition falters

Syria continues to feature high in Arabic news on Thursday, as well as in the editorial pages.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports the defection of 203 soldiers from the third battalion, based on the reports by the opposition’s Free Syrian Army. The Syrian Observatory, a London-based watchdog, reports that the city of Rastan is being bombarded at a pace of “one  bomb a minute” by government forces.

‘Who would have believed that Saleh would forgo his power and leave the presidency without civil war, as many feared?’

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based news channel, reports the resignation of Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the National Syrian Council, the main opposition group in exile. Ghalioun has been criticized for his authoritarian leadership of the umbrella organization.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Saleh Qalab comments ironically that Syria, whose Baath party champions Arab pan-nationalism, has left the Arab camp and become a bastion of Iranian influence in the region.

“Syria has become merely a secondary and inferior player in the Iranian equation in the Middle East, and has entirely left the Arab fold during the tenure of Bashar Assad and his ruling elite,” writes Qalab.

Abd Al-Wahab Badrakhan, a Lebanese columnist for Al-Hayat, writes that Aleppo has now joined the circle of protest against the Assad regime, making its downfall inevitable.

“Aleppo’s joining the Intifada was the bad news the regime was expecting, and tried to postpone as much as possible,” writes Badrakhan. “Aleppo will change the equation for the regime. It will no longer be able to argue that more than half of the population supports it.”

Saudi Arabia pledges billions to save Yemen

Saudi Arabia is pledging $3.25 billion for the “safety and stability” of Yemen, Al-Hayat reports. In a meeting held Wednesday in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faysal said the money will go to all sectors of Yemen, as well as to encourage exports.

“Ali Abdullah Saleh, the deposed president, exited Yemen rich and left behind him a country poorer than it was when he took office three decades earlier,” writes A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abd Al-Rahman Rashed in an editorial titled “Saving Yemen.”

“In any case, it is unwise to blame the past. Yemen faces a precious opportunity to build its present and its future… who would have believed that Saleh would forgo his power and leave the presidency without civil war, as many feared?”