Islamists sweep early results in Egypt vote

Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafis win more than half of seats in first round of parliamentary election.

Workers from Muslim Brotherhood''s Freedom and Justice Party in Alexandria
Advocates of different strains of political Islam appear to have taken a majority of votes [Reuters]

Islamist parties captured an overwhelming majority of votes in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, setting up a power struggle with the much weaker liberals behind the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago.

The Nour Party, a religious group that wants to impose strict Islamic law, made a strong showing with nearly a quarter of the ballots, according to results released on Sunday.

The tallies offered only a partial indication of how the new parliament will look. There are still two more rounds of voting in 18 of the country’s 27 provinces over the coming month and runoff elections on Monday and Tuesday to determine almost all of the seats allocated for individuals in the first round.

But the influence of the Islamists over the next parliament appears set, particularly considering their popularity in provinces voting in the next rounds.

The High Election Commission said the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 per cent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists. The Nour Party captured 24.4 per cent.

On Saturday, Kamal al-Ganzouri, the military-appointed prime minister, announced that he would pick a new cabinet on Wednesday.

Ganzouri was chosen by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) after the previous military-approved interim government resigned following a bloody crackdown on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

‘Conflict over soul of Egypt’

The new parliament will be tasked, in theory, with selecting a 100-member panel to draft the new constitution. But adding to tensions, the ruling military council that took over from Mubarak has suggested it will choose 80 of those members, and said parliament will have no say in naming a new government.

“The conflict will be over the soul of Egypt,” said Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a senior researcher at the state-sponsored Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, calling the new parliament “transitional” with a “very conservative Islamic” outlook.

The Brotherhood has emerged as the most organised and cohesive political force in these elections. But with no track record of governing, it is not yet clear how they will behave in power.

The Freedom and Justice Party has positioned itself as a moderate Islamist party that wants to implement Islamic law without sacrificing personal freedoms, and has said it will not seek an alliance with the more radical Nour Party.

The ultraconservative Salafis who dominate the Nour Party are newcomers to the political scene. They had previously frowned upon involvement in politics and shunned elections.

They espouse a strict interpretation of Islam similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Its members say laws contradicting religion cannot be passed.

Power struggle

Egypt already uses Islamic law, or Sharia, as the basis for legislation. However, laws remain largely secular as Sharia does not cover all aspects of modern life.

If the Freedom and Justice Party chooses not to form an alliance with the Salafis, the liberal Egyptian Bloc – which came in third with 13.4 per cent of the votes – could counterbalance hardline elements.

It is also unclear how much influence the new parliament will have over Egypt’s democratic transition and how long it will even serve.

The power struggle in parliament could shape up as a fight among the different Islamist trends or between the Islamists and the liberal and secular forces.

The elections, which began November 28, were deemed as the freest and fairest in Egypt’s modern history. Turnout of around 60 per cent was the highest in living memory as few participated in the heavily rigged votes under Mubarak.

The ballots are a confusing mix of individual races and party lists, and the Sunday results only reflect the party list performance for less than a third of the 498-seat parliament.

Another liberal list, the Wafd Party, received 7.1 per cent, while the moderate Islamist Wasat or Centrist Party took 4.3 per cent. The final shape of the parliament will not be announced before January.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies