Islamists surge in Egypt polls

Islamists surge in Egypt polls

Muslim Brotherhood prefers to have a rainbow parliament

Egypt's first free election in six decades is unfolding in three stages until January. Even then, the generals who stepped in when an uprising toppled Mubarak in February will not hand power over to civilians until after a presidential vote in mid-2012. “This is the first time our vote counts,” said Fatma Sayed, a government employee voting in Suez, recalling the rigged polls of the 30-year Mubarak era.

The Muslim Brotherhood, its hardline Salafi rivals and a moderate faction won about two-thirds of party-list votes in the first round. But the Brotherhood has signalled it wants a broad coalition, not a narrow Islamist front, in an assembly whose main task is to draft a new constitution.

As in the first round, voting was largely peaceful, but a gunfight between supporters of rival candidates closed a polling station on Cairo’s outskirts. No one was killed. Seven people were detained.

A party list led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) came top in the first round, with Salafi Islamists runners up. Liberals were pushed into third place and are trying to fight back. “I think the major trend will continue (in the second round) with some minor changes. The FJP will be first, but I think the percentage will be reduced relative to the first round,” said Hassan Abou Taleb, political analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

He said some voters, concerned by the rise of Islamists who they fear could introduce religious strictures, might boost liberals, but he did not expect a significant swing.

The Egyptian Bloc alliance, which includes liberal parties founded just months ago in the wake of Mubarak's downfall, and the decades-old liberal Wafd party together secured about 20 per cent of the votes for party lists in the first round.

Liberal politicians say they are trying to coordinate more effectively this time to avoid splitting their vote and revitalize campaigns with more active street canvassing. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie has sought to reassure voters, saying his group wants to work in a broad coalition and does not want a showdown with the army. “We will not rule Egypt alone. Parliament will include all the colours of the rainbow that must agree on one direction, one goal,” he told a television channel this month.

Some analysts say the Brotherhood might prefer to find non-Islamist allies in parliament, rather than lining up with the main Salafi al-Nour Party.

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