|Quiet falls on Tahrir Square following the first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt [Reuters]
Cairo, Egypt - The once-bustling streets of this city's Tahrir Square have largely fallen silent, empty of the hundreds of thousands of anti-military protesters who recently filled its confines with angry chants.
Amid those chants came a call from some to boycott the country’s first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak - elections which activists said were illegitimate under military rule.
But as results begin to trickle out following a peaceful two-day start to the multi-stage voting process, the heart of the protest movement appears to have shifted beyond Tahrir.
A smattering of tents defiantly inhabited by protesters who refuse to move, remained perched across the square on Thursday, but the numbers have dissipated. Still, activists say they are certain this is only a momentary lull in action.
“Voting is a feel-good action, and in a few days people will discover it is nothing,” 25-year-old Lobna Darwish, a protester who has remained in Tahrir, told Al Jazeera. “They are going to come back to the streets when they discover that parliament has no power whatsoever and that political parties betrayed the revolution.”
'Democracy under a dictatorship'
Darwish said she boycotted the vote because she saw it as a farce, a week after the deaths of more than 40 people during clashes between protesters and riot police.
"And then we go back to the polling stations as if it matters? It's as if we can have a democracy under a dictatorship," she said.
Darwish said it may take up to three months to get numbers in Tahrir back to their highest levels, but she chalked that up to the way revolutions work.
"Elections absorbed some of the anger. That’s the nature of elections. But they can’t contain the revolution, contain discontent. It’s impossible."
Ahmed Aggour, a protester, said it was only a matter of time before the novelty of elections wore off and demonstrators returned to Tahrir en masse.
“These elections are not legitimate. We can’t do elections in the middle of the revolution. I think people are waiting for another Friday, for a critical mass... people aren’t going to forget what happened on Mohamed Mahmoud street,” he said, referring to the front line of the former battle ground between protesters and riot police late last month.
Aggour, who was wounded by a rubber bullet during the clashes, said large crowds were expected to fill Tahrir on Friday to honour those killed during the Mohamed Mahmoud fighting.
"Wait and see what's going to happen. There is a massive calling for people to flock to the square. The numbers are going to come back," he said.
The will of the people?
The call for numbers to return may have to contend with a public weary of more protests, however. Jano Charbel, an Egyptian labour journalist, said that weariness was a pervasive sentiment among voters who flocked to the polling booth.
"They were saying, 'this is the popular will of the people and Tahrir doesn’t represent people'," he told Al Jazeera.
Charbel had intended to boycott the vote in response to the security force crackdown on protesters last month, deciding that a vote would be a mark of approval for a "military dictatorship".
But after standing in line for three hours just to enter the polling station as a journalist, Charbel said he changed his mind.
"I cast my vote in the end because I wanted to vote against the Muslim Brotherhood," he said, referring to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party.
"They are a reactionary political force looking out for their own interests and they've aligned themselves with the military dictatorship. So I voted for a leftist candidate closest to my beliefs."
Charbel said voting, however, did not preclude continuing to protest in the square.
"Tahrir fluctuates. In January when we took the square, there were some days that there were hundreds of thousands and some days barely 3,000," he said.
"Elections have distracted some people and clashes have discouraged other people, but I expect them to return."