EGYPT. Egyptians in Cairo, Alexandria and seven other provinces began voting today in run-offs for the first stage of an election that may give Islamist groups the dominant role in parliament.
Partial results show the Muslim Brotherhood’s party secured 37% of valid ballots cast, followed by the Salafi Nour party with at least 24%, Hisham Mokhtar, a member of the electoral commission, said yesterday.
The secular Egyptian Bloc took about 13%. While the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party is widely predicted to secure the largest share of seats in parliament, the early success of the conservative Nour has surprised some election observers.
“Most people underestimated the Salafis, it was a mistake to do so,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. Its share was “pretty high for a party that didn’t exist until a few months ago. That’s a very impressive achievement. If anything, you’d expect the Salafis to continue to gain in areas where liberals have less presence.”
Egypt’s first elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak consist of two further rounds covering the country’s remaining 18 governorates. Islamist groups have already won elections this year in Morocco and Tunisia, where the wave of uprisings began a year ago. Due to a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists as well as individual candidates, the makeup of the Egyptian assembly won’t be clear until final results are announced in January.
About 62% of eligible voters turned out in the first round, “the highest percentage that Egypt has witnessed since the days of the pharaohs,” Abdel Moez Ibrahim, the chairman of the election commission, said December 2.
The Freedom and Justice party said 47 of its individual candidates are contesting the run-offs today and tomorrow while the Nour party said it has 27.
Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood is a broad-based movement operating in several Middle Eastern countries that runs teaching, medical and social programs as well as promoting Islamic values. Its party in Egypt promoted a pro-business stance ahead of elections, saying it would create jobs by directing investment toward industries, agriculture and information technology.
“Salafis” is a loose term applied to those who follow a strict interpretation of Islam, often opposing modern developments and emulating what they consider to be the practices of the earliest generations of Muslims.
“There should have been no surprise,” Yousry Hammad, a spokesman for Nour, said by telephone today. “Before, only a few players were in the limelight and the rest were marginalized, but we represent a big sector of Egyptians. Elections just showed our real presence.”
He said the party expected to do better in the upcoming two rounds “because we have more presence in those provinces.”
“I was shocked by the results,” said Manal Zakary, 53, a housewife waiting to vote in Cairo’s eastern suburb of Heliopolis. “I expected the Freedom and Justice party to do well, but not the Salafis. I wonder what awaits the country’s freedom and culture? They could drag us back. Tahrir Square is still there. If they stifle freedoms I will not hesitate to protest.”
At a polling station in the Shoubra neighborhood, 50-year- old accountant Shaaban Ibrahim said he chose Nour “because I want to encourage the Salafis and help them gain more experience because they’re newcomers. I trust Islamists but I also want them to be put to the test.”
The election has failed to end protests against the ruling military council, with hundreds camping overnight in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after more than two weeks of rallies. Protesters accuse the generals of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive a struggling economy.
“I’ve never voted before and I’ve never had an opinion,” said Anayat Mohamed, 67, also voting in Heliopolis. “Now I want to see young people in parliament. I want the youth to build the country. I have five children and they are all living abroad. I want this country to improve so that they can come back.”
Gross domestic product grew 1.8% in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade. While the benchmark stock index rallied more than 8% last week, boosted by the high voter turnout and lack of violence, it’s still down 43% this year. Egypt’s dollar bonds due in 2020 are trading at about 7%, close to a 10-month high.
Egypt failed to raise its target of 3.5 billion Egyptian pounds (US$583 million) in a sale of nine-month Treasury bills as investors demanded higher yields, the Finance Ministry said yesterday on its website.
The ministry accepted bids valued at 3.125 billion pounds at an average yield of 15.084% compared with 14.949 percent at a similar sale last week.