Final results on Saturday showed that Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliament in Egypt's first elections since the ouster of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak, according to election officials and political groups.
The Islamist domination of Egypt's parliament has worried liberals and even some conservatives about the religious tone of the new legislature, which will be tasked with forming a committee to write a new constitution. It remains unclear whether the constitution will be written while the generals who took power after Mubarak's fall are still in charge, or rather after presidential elections this summer.
In the vote for the lower house of parliament, a coalition led by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood won 47 per cent, or 235 seats in the 498-seat parliament. The ultra-conservative Al-Nour Party was second with 25 per cent, or 125 seats.
The Salafi Al-Nour, which was initially the biggest surprise of the vote, wants to impose strict Islamic law in Egypt, while the more moderate Brotherhood, the country's best-known and organized party, has said publicly that it does not seek to force its views about an appropriate Islamic lifestyle on Egyptians.
- Elections to the upper house, the 270-seat Shura Council, are to be held between Jan. 29 and March 11.
- After the Shura elections, the constituent assembly will be chosen.
- A new president is also to be elected by mid-2012.
The two parties are unlikely to join forces because of ideological differences, but both have a long history of charity work in Egypt's vast poverty-stricken neighborhoods and villages, giving them a degree of legitimacy and popularity across the country in areas where newer liberal parties have yet to get a foothold.
Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagi said the new parliament represents "the wish of the Egyptian people."
Egypt's elections commission acknowledged that there were voting irregularities, but the vote has been hailed as the country's freest and fairest in living memory.
Meanwhile, activists have accused the country's military leaders of repressive tactics. Critics say the nearly 12,000 civilians who have faced military trials since Mubarak's ouster have not been afforded proper due process.
Chief military prosecutor Adel el-Morsi said that 1,959 people convicted in military courts since Mubarak's ouster would be released on the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising on Wednesday.
Among them would be Maikel Nabil, a blogger who was arrested in March and sentenced to two years in prison on charges of criticizing the armed forces and publishing false information for comments on his blog comparing the military to Mubarak's regime.
The blogger's case was championed by by human rights lawyer and Canadian Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.
Liberal parties trail in seats
The liberals who spearheaded the revolt that toppled Mubarak struggled to organize and connect with a broader public in the vote, did not fair as well as the Islamists.
The Egyptian bloc, which is headed by a party founded by Christian telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it won nine percent of the seats in parliament. Egypt's oldest secular party, the Wafd, also won around nine percent.
Newer parties, such as the liberal Revolution Continues Party won two percent, as did the Islamist Center Party, which had been banned from politics under Mubarak.
The results leave the liberal groups with little ability to maneuver in parliament, unless they choose to mobilize the street in protests or work on key issues with the dominant Islamist groups, said Mohamed Abu-Hamed, the deputy leader of the liberal Free Egyptians Party.
The Brotherhood has refused to join recent street protests, saying that elections and the new parliament are the best ways to respond to demands that the military transfer power immediately to a civilian authority.
"The street and the parliament are not at opposite ends. The issues are not going to be resolved by protests, but through parliamentary laws," the Brotherhood's el-Beltagi said.
The final tally, which includes at least 15 seats for former regime figures, comes as little surprise since election results had been partially announced throughout the three stages of the vote, which took place over several weeks across the country.
The United States long shunned Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and turned a blind-eye to the arrest and torture of Salafis, who now comprise the bulk of Al-Nour Party's constituents, under Mubarak, who was a longtime U.S. ally.
A White House statement said that President Barack Obama called Egypt's ruling military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on Friday and welcomed the historic seating of the lower house of Egypt's Parliament, which is set to convene for the first time on Monday.