Egypt’s two main Islamist blocs said they may have won about 70 percent of the votes in parliamentary elections this week that are the first major test of public opinion since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
The alliance dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won about 40 percent in the first round of the elections, which took place in one-third of the country’s provinces, according to party spokesman Ahmed Sobea. Two individual candidates backed by the alliance won seats and 47 others will contest re-runs, he said.
The more conservative Salafi Al-Nour Party said it may have gotten 30 percent while the secular Egyptian Bloc said it may have won as much as 20 percent of the vote.
About 62 percent of eligible voters, or 8.4 million people, turned out to vote, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, the chairman of the election commission, said in a televised press conference today. The turnout “is the highest percentage that Egypt has witnessed since the days of the pharaohs,” he said.
Full results of the first round weren’t announced at the press conference. Run-offs in closely contested seats will begin on Dec. 5. With two more rounds of voting in the rest of the country to come after that, the assembly’s make-up won’t be clear until January.
The initial results offer an early indication that Islamic parties are set to play a leading role in the next phase of Egypt’s transition toward democracy, which may bring the political groups in parliament into conflict with the ruling army council. The generals last week appointed former Premier Kamal el-Ganzouri to form a government, and say they won’t cede power until a president is elected in June.
“These parties have succeeded in articulating broad sentiments that are widely appealing,” Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said of the Islamist groups. “The problem that all these parties will have is, how do you convert those sentiments into laws and policy? I don’t think they figured that out.”
The Freedom and Justice Party said yesterday that it hasn’t made any kind of pact with the Salafi group to act together after elections. Any talk of alliances is “premature and mere media speculation,” Secretary-General Saad El Katatny said, according to the Brotherhood’s website.
The army’s reluctance to cede power sparked a week of clashes that left more than 40 people dead and overshadowed the run-up to the two-day balloting, which ended on Nov. 29. Protesters accused the ruling generals of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive a struggling economy.
At a rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today to commemorate those who died in the uprising, thousands demanded the departure of the ruling military council.
“The real issue is civilian rule,” said Karim El-Attar, a 34-year-old marketing manager. “I want a civilian state, neither a religion-based nor a military state.”
The unrest before and since Mubarak’s ouster has weighed down the economy, which grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade. While the benchmark stock index rallied more than 8 percent this week, boosted by the high voter turnout and lack of violence, it’s still down 43 percent this year. Egypt’s dollar bonds due in 2020 are trading at about 7 percent, close to a 10-month high.
The Brotherhood’s party campaigned on a platform of reviving the economy by boosting investment in industry, agriculture and technology, and trimming the budget deficit.
There’s no reason investors should worry about a Brotherhood election victory, because Islamist politics aren’t “inconsistent with a flourishing market economy,” Said Hirsh, Middle East economist at Capital Economics in London, said in an e-mailed note yesterday. Investors should be more concerned about Egypt’s likely need for more than $10 billion in external financing next year, he said.
As it claimed an election victory, the Brotherhood also said that the powers of the elected assembly should be enhanced at the military’s expense. “We reject any kind of guardianship over parliament,” said Mohammed el-Beltagy, an official with the Freedom and Justice party.
Samer Soliman, a member of one of the parties in the Egyptian Bloc, said Islamists’ gains so far may “scare” many Egyptians and help secular groups mobilize more voters for the two upcoming rounds. The bloc said it filed complaints against some violations marring the vote, such as “electoral bribes” and the use of “religious slogans” in some polling stations where it wants a repeat.
For now, the military-appointed el-Ganzouri is seeking to form a Cabinet. He said yesterday that he expects to complete that process by Dec. 3, adding that it’s the army council and not Parliament that has the right to appoint governments.
The Cairo protesters say el-Ganzouri’s administration won’t be legitimate.
“The people now realize that the parliament will be the body that has the power, that represents the people, and not necessarily Tahrir Square,” said Hazem El-Sisi, a 33-year-old engineer who’s camping with other protesters in a tent on the plaza. “Our main concern now is to ensure that the new government should represent the revolution, and not be made up of figures from the former regime. What we can do now is keep the pressure up.”