Egypt elections expose Islamist divisions
Hardliners call for strict Islamist law
A runoff Monday for Egypt's first-round parliamentary elections exposed tensions between competing Islamist parties that have so far dominated the vote.
In the southern province of Assiut, supporters of hardline Islamist party Gamaa Islamiya attacked and chased away campaign workers from the Muslim Brotherhood outside a polling station where the two groups were facing off in a vote. Supporters of one Brotherhood candidate said they received death threats and one of their clerics was beaten up by campaign workers of Gamaa Islamiya — an ex-militant group-turned-political party.
The Brotherhood, the most established and organized party running, is in the lead so far, according to official results released on Sunday. Gamaa Islamiya is part of the second-place Al-Nour alliance with the ultraconservative Salafists, hard-liners who seek to impose strict Islamic law on Egypt.
The elections are the first since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in an uprising in February and are the freest and fairest in living memory. Voters are choosing both individual candidates and parties and runoffs on Monday and Tuesday will determine almost all the seats allocated for individuals in the first round, about a third of parliament's 498 seats.
Islamist blocs take majority
The two leading Islamist blocs of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists took an overwhelming majority of the first-round vote for parties with 60 per cent, a huge blow to the liberal and youthful activists who drove the uprising. But 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.
But the grip of the Islamists over the next parliament appears set, particularly considering their popularity in provinces voting in the next rounds. The runoffs are unlikely to alter the Islamists' dominance.
The first round of voting includes the capital Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria in Egypt's north. Turnout in Cairo Monday was very weak, with little drama.
But in Assiut, tensions between Islamists were simmering. The province is a stronghold of Gamaa Islamiya, a former militant group that fought the Mubarak regime in a bloody insurgency in 1990s.
Since Mubarak's ouster, hardline Islamists, many of whom were released from prisons, exploited a growing security vacuum in the country and grew increasingly assertive in a push for power.
In Assiut, they wrested control of mosques from government-appointed preachers and installed their own prayer leaders. The city is filled with signs exhorting residents to follow Islamic teachings and women to wear the hijab, or Muslim headscarf.
"The hijab is obligatory," one sign says. "Take your eyes off women," another tells men.
The Brotherhood has been accused of violating election rules barring campaigning near polling sites on election day.
Some of the runoffs pit Islamist candidates from the Brotherhood and the Salafis against each other while others are between Islamists and secular candidates. The runoffs will decide 52 of the 56 seats for individuals that were up for grabs in the first round.
Only four were decided in the first round.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 per cent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists, according to results released on Sunday. The Salafists' Al-Nour arty captured 24.4 per cent, while the secular Egyptian Bloc won 13.4 per cent of the votes.
The Salafis want to impose strict Islamic law on Egypt and the strong Islamist showing worries liberal parties, and even some religious parties, who fear the two groups will work to push a religious agenda. It has also left many of the youthful activists behind the uprising feeling that their revolution has been hijacked.
Tensions aside, the runoffs drew a much weaker turnout compared to last week's vote which drew massive lines. The electoral commission initially said turnout last week was around 60 percent but it revised the number down to 52 percent on Monday — still the highest in Egypt's modern history.