Polling stations have opened in Egypt's first parliamentary election since a popular uprising ended the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Many political parties and groups have been calling for a delay to the complex voting process, arguing that the country should wait until the atmosphere is calmer and safer, the BBC reports.
About 50 million people are eligible to vote out of a population in excess of 85 million. Recent unrest, in which 40 people have died and 2000 have been wounded, has cast a shadow over Monday's polls.
Protesters fear the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - which is headed by army chief Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and overseeing the transition to democratic rule since Mr Mubarak was deposed on 11 February - is trying to retain power.
Mass demonstrations have been calling for military rule to end before parliamentary elections are held - although there also have been smaller gatherings expressing support for the country's interim military rulers.
But Field Marshall Tantawi says he will not let "troublemakers" meddle in the parliamentary elections, warning of "extremely grave" consequences if the country does not overcome its crisis.
He called on Egyptians from all walks of life to head to the polling stations so that the new People's Assembly would represent them and urged top presidential candidates Mohammed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa to back his nomination for prime minister.
Monday marks the first step of an election timetable which lasts until March 2012 and covers two houses of parliament.
The country's 27 provinces will initially vote in three separate rounds to elect a lower house of parliament. The final results of the parliamentary elections are expected on 13 January.