|The election results came as no surprise to many observers [AFP]
The early results from Egypt's parliamentary elections are hardly surprising. Most observers expected the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to keep its two-thirds majority; the banned Muslim Brotherhood to lose its one-fifth strong opposition bloc; and a better but still humble performance from the smaller opposition parties who participated in the vote.
Essam Elerian, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, says: "We lost seats and a much deserved representation in the parliament. But we won people's love and support and a media battle that exposed [irregularities in] the elections."
Elerian blames his group's loss on "clear vote-rigging" that amounted to "an obvious election scandal by all measures".
His group and other civil society organisations have complained that the NDP used violence to prevent representatives of the Brotherhood and other opposition candidates from monitoring the vote.
Their presence inside the polling stations offered one of the few guarantees against vote-rigging after the outgoing parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party, introduced a series of changes that minimised the role of judges in monitoring the elections and put the ministry of interior in charge of much of the election process.
'A comforting majority'
Representatives of the NDP acknowledged that some violations took place but insisted that they were minimal. "The general view of the elections before final results are declared emphasise that the elections went [smoothly] in an unexpected way," says Magdy ElDakkak, a member of the NDP political education committee, adding that: "Some violations took place here and there in some districts, especially in rural areas .... But the elections did not turn into a heated [violent] battle as some rumours predicted."
Where skirmishes did take place, ElDakkak says they were between different groups of supporters and "not between supporters and the security forces".
He says he expects the NDP to achieve a "comforting majority" because of "all its achievements", adding: "What is surprising [is that] the illegal and illegitimate Brotherhood movement has admitted defeat."
He put the defeat of the Brotherhood, which he refuses to call the 'Muslim' Brotherhood, down to the "heavy participation [of] legal parties [in the election]" and suggests the results showed that "Egyptian politics is no longer a dichotomy or dual game between the NDP and the Brotherhood".
"The Brotherhood's efforts to provoke people and clashes have motivated people against them," he says. "We are getting a new elected civil parliament with no religious and divisive forces."
'All Egyptians lost'
But the Muslim Brotherhood has challenged this view.
"All Egyptians lost yesterday, the NDP lost, and the opposition lost," Elerian says. "The NDP could have achieved their victory through [a] better way .... We have a dilemma; a ruling party that wants to rule alone ... the regime wants our elections result to be a zero."
"The big looser is the Egyptian people who will further hate and distance themselves from politics."
Amr Hamzaway, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes "all Egyptian political groups have lost in a way or another".
He believes that the Muslim Brotherhood lost their position as the largest opposition group inside parliament, that those opposition parties who participated gained seats but lost popularity by participating in unfair elections, and that those who refused to participate in the elections, such as the National Association for Change, which is affiliated with former UN nuclear chief Mohammed ElBaradei, failed in educating voters and monitoring the elections.
However, he argues that "the biggest loser in yesterday's elections is the NDP".
"The NDP has fully lost its credibility when it comes to its ability and willingness to conduct fair elections ... all NDP promises to the Egyptian people were proven false."
The Brotherhood's dilemma
Hamzaway also feels that the Muslim Brotherhood failed in two key strategic areas. Firstly, it did not solve the dilemma of being a religious group that acts as a political party within a political system that does not recognise it.
And, secondly, it has failed to convince its followers of the importance of political participation, which was reflected in their poor showing on election day.
But Elerian is not convinced that the group's defeat will hinder its political participation or lead to divisions.
"No rifts will take place ... those who opposed our decision to participate in the elections said that they will respect it. We will not look inward as some people wish," he says. "Our religious education encourages us to play an active role in public life."
For its part, ElDakkak says that the NDP believes the vote was the "right start for Egypt's political forces and pluralistic political life".