In May 2012, Egyptians took part in free and fair elections in their homeland for the first time in more than three decades. After over a year of turbulence and uncertainty, the next essential step towards democracy in the Arab world’s most populous country was taken.

In a radio report on the morning of the election, one commentator put it succinctly: “Egyptians have hope in their hearts, they know they are voting for a president, not a king.”

The process is far from over as The Middle East goes to print but hopes are high that of the 11 candidates who started the race, a clear contender will eventually emerge from the clutch of frontrunners.

When Egyptians went to the polls in September 2005, just 6.3 million voters turned out to return the now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), led by President Hosni Mubarak, to power, with 87% of the total vote. Last month, between 30-40 million people, some 60-75% of those eligible to vote, stood up to be counted in the national election because they believed that this time their voice would count.

There are bound to be teething troubles but the most important part of the process has already taken place; Egyptians have expressed their choice as to who should lead them through these first vital years of the post-Mubarak era. And, although the new constitution is still to be finalised, it is already clear that whoever succeeds as president, will not remain in office for at most two, four-year terms; Egypt is done with contemporary Pharaoh building.

However, for the process to thrive, it is vital that once made, the democratic choice of the people is properly respected by those both inside and outside the country. There are those who would love to take the opportunity of meddling in Egypt’s fledgling political arena to further their own ends.

No doubt there are many tough decisions to be made in the months ahead but these are decisions that can and must be taken in Cairo rather than destinations east or west of the capital. Egyptians have a long way to go if they are to achieve their aspirations but let’s not underestimate them now or, most importantly, forget, just how far they have come