Liberals scramble to regroup as Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood compete in the second round of parliamentary voting.
|Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reports from Suez|
Egyptians have flocked to the polls in nine provinces across the country for the second round of voting in the first parliamentary election since a popular uprising toppled former president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Polls closed at 1900GMT on Wednesday, the first of a two-day voting process, which saw Egyptians turning out in large numbers, but still far less than what was seen during the first round.
Voters poured into polling stations in Giza; Beni Sueif, south of the capital; the Nile Delta provinces of Menufiya, Sharqiya and Beheira; the canal cities of Ismailiya and Suez; and the southern cities Sohag and Aswan.
At one polling station on the outskirts of Cairo, seven people were detained after security forces stepped in to stop supporters of rival candidates from firing upon one another. Otherwise, reports indicated that voting progressed fairly smoothly.
The second round of voting, which continues through Thursday, will decide 180 seats in the 498-seat lower house. The third and final round is scheduled for early January.
Some 18.8 million Egyptians are eligible to cast their ballots with voting taking place over two days followed by run-off votes where necessary a week later.
Al Jazeera’s correspondents in Giza and Suez reported that fewer voters had turned out for the second round of elections than the first.
Rawya Rageh, reporting from a polling station in Giza, described the turnout as “humble” but steady.
She said round two was likely to be a much tougher race than the previous round, especially in the Muslim Brotherhood’s heartland, the Nile Delta.
“This is going to be a very important test, especially for the liberals … Will they be able to make a comeback?” Rageh said. “For the first time, we’ve seen the liberals come together in a semi-formal co-ordination [in the lead-up to the second round].”
Islamist parties dominated the first round of voting, which started last month, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm taking 47 per cent of the contested seats and the ultra-conservative al-Nour party taking 21 per cent.
With round two, the Islamist parties are seeking to boost their already overwhelming lead, while liberal voters are concerned that the outcome will push the country in a more religious direction.
The secular and liberal forces that largely drove Egypt’s uprising were trounced in the first round, failing to turn their achievement into a victory at the polls. The liberal Egyptian Bloc took just nine per cent of the vote in the first round.
The final two rounds are not expected to dramatically alter the result and could strengthen the Islamists’ hand.
“We have to try Islamic rule to be able to decide if it’s good for us,” said 60-year-old voter Hussein Khattab, an accountant, waiting to vote at a polling station near the famous pyramids in Giza province.
“If not, we can go back to Tahrir,” he said, referring to the Cairo square that was the focus of the uprising in January and February that ousted Mubarak.