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Islamists expected to hold or gain ground in elections

Egypt's Islamist political parties were expected to cement or increase their hold of the new parliament yesterday

CAIRO // Egypt's Islamist political parties were expected to cement or increase their hold of the new parliament yesterday, as citizens from a largely rural section of country voted in the second of three phases.

The first round of elections for the lower house of parliament on November 28-29 saw the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Freedom and Justice Party, the Salafist Al Nour party and Al Wasat party together gain more than 70 per cent of the vote, according to unofficial data released by political groups and observers.

That round of voting took place in some of the largest metropolitan centres, such as Cairo and Alexandria, where the liberal and secular parties had the largest following. The second phase includes rural areas in Upper Egypt such as Sohâg and Aswan, where Islamists dominate the local political scene.

It also includes Beheira, Sharqiya, Suez, Beni Suef, and Monoufiya.

"It would be a big surprise if the vote share of the Islamists that we saw in the previous stage decreased," said Mazen Hassan, a professor specialising in politics and election law at Cairo University.

Egypt's elections are spread out over three periods, with the final round to be held early January, before another six weeks of elections for the upper house, or Shura council.

As there are breaks between the phases, political parties on both sides of the spectrum - Islamist and secular - are reorganising their campaigns and making last-minute alliances to gain more seats.

Mr Hassan called this the "bandwagon effect", in which parties that performed poorly in the first round, such as some of the youth groups and old guard parties connected to the former regime, would drop out or join a bigger rival. The Egypt Bloc, an alliance of liberal and secular groups, could manage to get a few extra seats if this pays off, he said.

"We are starting to see coordination with the Egyptian Bloc and other secular parties because they know that their chances are extremely limited and they get slimmer over time," he said.

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