x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

New Egypt takes shape as Islamists win at polls

Islamist parties captured an overwhelming majority of votes in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections, setting up a power struggle with the weaker liberals.

gyptians demand the military relinquishes its power in a protest in Cairo yesterday.
gyptians demand the military relinquishes its power in a protest in Cairo yesterday.

CAIRO // Islamist parties captured an overwhelming majority of votes in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections, setting up a power struggle with the weaker liberals.

A hardline religious group that wants to impose strict Islamic law made a strong showing with nearly a quarter of the ballots, according to results released yesterday.

The tallies offer 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 run-off elections today and Tuesday. But the grip 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 percent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists. The Nour Party, a more hardline Islamist group, captured 24.4 percent.

The strong Islamist showing worries liberal parties, and even some religious parties, who fear the two groups would work together to push a religious agenda. It has also left many of the youthful activists behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak in February feeling that their revolution has been hijacked.

Since Hosni Mubarak's fall, the groups that led the uprising and Islamists have been locked in a fight over the country's new constitution. The new parliament will be tasked, in theory, with selecting a 100-member panel to draft the new constitution.

To add to tensions, the ruling military council that took over from Mr 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 researcher at the state-sponsored Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, calling the new parliament "transitional" with a "very conservative Islamic" outlook.

The Brotherhood has emerged as the most organised political force in these elections. The party has positioned itself as a moderate 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, where the sexes are segregated and women must be veiled and are barred from driving. Its members say laws contradicting religion cannot be passed.

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

If the Muslim Brotherhood chooses not to form an alliance with the Salafis, the liberal Egyptian Bloc - which came in third with 13.4 percent of the votes - could counterbalance hardline elements.

Turnout of around 60 per cent was the highest in living memory as few participated in the heavily rigged votes under Mr Mubarak.