The concern about the powerful military possibly swaying this week's vote persists despite the insistence of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that it will hand over power to an elected civilian government. The military leaders put armored personnel carriers on the streets with loudspeakers broadcasting a message that they will relinquish power, but that did not convince doubters.
Some 30,000 volunteers have fanned out to make sure the voting is fair, said organizers with the April 6 youth movement, which has long campaigned for greater democracy and rule of law in Egypt.
They reported only minor violations on Wednesday, mostly supporters of one candidate or another trying to influence voters at polling stations.
Nawaz, the analyst in London, said Egypt probably is not heading toward a simple case of the military either giving up control or rejecting the results of the election.
Instead, he anticipated, there will be an "unhappy settlement" where the military remains "ever-present, in the shadows," influencing the civilian government without controlling it.
"Egypt is going along similar lines to Turkey or Pakistan," he said, naming two other countries that have formal democracies in place but where a powerful military can affect events.
The degree to which the military continues to exercise control in Egypt will depend on who wins the election, Nawaz anticipated -- but he laughed aloud when asked to predict who that would be.
Whoever wins the election, Nawaz said, will face tremendous challenges, even without worries about the army.
"They are inheriting a failed economy, an abysmal bureaucracy, a frustrated people, and a deep distrust on behalf of the people towards their military and any policing," Nawaz said.
Protesters are upset at what they see as the slow pace of reform since Mubarak's ouster. Some are also concerned that the country's military leadership is delaying the transition to civilian rule.
And Egypt has an elaborate political mosaic where alliances shift quickly, he added.
Secular democrats oppose military rule, for example, but if an Islamist candidate wins the presidency, "Some of the democrats would switch because they would rather have military rule than the Islamists," Nawaz said.
"It's far more complicated than 'Islamists vs. liberal democracy.' It's rich vs. poor, (hardline) Salafists vs. the (more moderate) Muslim Brotherhood, secularists vs. Islamists," he said.
On top of that, the country does not yet have a new constitution defining the powers of the president or the parliament, after a court last month suspended the committee charged with writing it. The court ruled that the members of the committee did not reflect the national population well enough.
Among the candidates vying for the presidency are Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party; Amre Moussa, who served as foreign minister under Mubarak and headed the Arab League; Abdelmonen Abol Fotoh, a moderate Islamist running as a respected independent; Ahmed Shafik, who was Mubarak's last prime minister; and Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist dark-horse contender.
In January, two Islamist parties -- the Freedom and Justice Party with 235 seats and the conservative Al Nour party with 121 seats -- won about 70% of the seats in the lower house of parliament in the first elections for an elected governing body in the post-Mubarak era. The rest of the assembly's 498 seats were divided among other parties.