Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 December 2011
Issue No. 1074
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Strong showing for Islamists

Islamic parties and the ruling military council are the biggest winners of the first stage of legislative elections as the results start to come in, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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THE VICTORY sign against the setting sun and the flag in Tahrir Square marks the triumph of the revolution, if not quite in establishing a new political order then in encouraging political participation and awareness of human rights. The overwhelming enthusiasm with which Egyptians are voting in their first parliamentary elections since the ouster of the Mubarak regime bears testimony to hope in a better future

As expected, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) made progress in the first stage of the elections for the People's Assembly -- Egypt's lower house of parliament. This is contrary to earlier predictions that a huge turnout of Egyptians at polling stations -- expected to exceed 70 per cent -- would make a difference and that Islamists would face stiff competition from new "revolutionary" faces.

Although Judge Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, chairman the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) in charge of supervising the elections, announced that the final results would be announced today evening, initial results show that Islamists -- including the FJP and Salafist elements -- performed well in seven out of the first stage's nine governorates, and that very few "revolutionary" faces were able to make headway.

Ibrahim said the delay in announcing the final results was largely due to the huge turnout, unprecedented in Egypt's modern history. The turnout in the first stage of 2005's parliamentary elections was 23 per cent.

In Alexandria, a stronghold for Islamists, press reports of Al-Ahram show that the FJP got 41 per cent of the vote; the Salafist Nour (Light) Party came next with 24 per cent; and then the "Revolution Continues" bloc (offshoots from the leftist Tagammu Party and led by veteran socialist worker Abul-Ezz El-Hariri) came third with 13 per cent.

In the Upper Egypt governorate of Fayoum, the FJP got also 40 per cent of the vote, followed by the Salafist Nour Party that got around 30 per cent.

In Port Said, the veteran Islamist MP Akram El-Shaer won the seat reserved for independent "professionals" at the expense of Coptic political activist George Ishak.

In Cairo, the independent and party-based candidates of the FJP also made a good running in two of south Cairo's districts: Helwan and Sayeda Zeinab. In the Upper Egypt governorate of Assiut and the Nile Delta governorate of Kafr Al-Sheikh, initial results also show that the FJP got 40 per cent of the vote followed by the Salafist Nour Party. In the tourist governorate of Luxor, the Egyptian Bloc performed well, taking more than 40 per cent of the vote.

These preliminary figures show that Islamists can sweep as much as 40 per cent of the vote across the three stages. In 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood got 20 per cent of the seats of the People's Assembly.

According to Amr El-Shobaki, an Al-Ahram analyst, "We should not jump to hasty conclusions that the Islamists would sweep the polls and then dominate Egypt's first post-25 January Revolution."

"Do not forget that the Brotherhood's FJP candidates are part of the Democratic Alliance that includes candidates of other parties with liberal and leftist tendencies," said El-Shobaki. As a result, he added, "no one could be able to give an early prediction of how much Islamists -- led by the FJP -- got in this stage and we should all wait until the end of the third stage."

El-Shobaki believes that the Egyptian Bloc -- a liberal alliance including the three political parties of the leftist Tagammu, the leftist Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, and the liberal Free Egyptians founded by Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris -- notched an impressive performance. He notes that the Egyptian Bloc did much better than the old liberal Wafd Party in the first stage. "This is in spite of the fact that it was founded just three months ago," said El-Shobaki.

Most of the reports of independent monitors of the election -- especially the network of Observers Without Borders -- noted that, "Egyptian churches issued clear instructions to Coptic Christians to vote for the Egyptian Bloc." Islamists also repeated the same claims. Boutros Ayoub, an Egyptian businessman, begged to differ, emphasising "it is Egyptian liberals -- Muslim and Christian -- who voted for the Egyptian Bloc because they want a civic liberal state and not a religious one like Iran." Ayoub also believes that the initial success of the Islamists was largely due to the fact that they got a lot of popularity among the silent majority in poor districts. "Citizens in these districts are very religious and can be easily deceived by religious slogans," argued Ayoub.

It was also clear that in some high-class and highly educated districts such as downtown Cairo's Qasr Al-Nil, south Cairo's Maadi, and east Cairo's Heliopolis, new liberal faces made a strong showing. In Helwan, which includes Maadi, the list of the Egyptian Bloc came second to the FJP. It includes young faces such as Ziad El-Oleimi, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party. In Heliopolis, the liberal-oriented political analyst Amr Hamzawy, a long-time researcher with the Washington-based Carnegie Foundation, is about to win the seat reserved for independent professionals. In Qasr Al-Nil, reports show that Gamila Ismail, the ex-wife of political activist Ayman Nour, made a good showing in an uphill battle against the FJP's independent candidate and that there would be a run-off.

El-Shobaki also believes that most of the independent Islamist and non-Islamist candidates who performed well in the first stage are former MPs. "This means that voters are still governed by old choices and that the turnout of the silent majority in huge numbers is not being felt in making big changes," argued El-Shobaki.

In Cairo, Mustafa Bakri, a Nasserist journalist and a former MP, appears set to win the seat of Helwan; and Mohamed Abdel-Alim Dawoud, a former Wafd MP, is about to win the seat of Fiwa district in Kafr El-Sheikh governorate.

Also notable was that diehards of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) failed to impress. Most were fielded by NDP offshoots such as Al-Horreya Party. The only exception was Tarek Talaat Mustafa, an NDP businessman and a former MP who ran as an independent and performed well against reformist judge Mahmoud El-Khodeiri.

Whatever the results, most local and foreign observers believe that the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) was the biggest winner in the two-day battle.

"The huge turnout in the first stage was a vote of confidence in SCAF as much as in the new democratic process," said Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party.

El-Sadat believes that SCAF proved capable of organising the elections in an orderly and disciplined manner. "SCAF also proved loyal to the necessity of making Egypt a democracy and above all managed to isolate the protesters of Tahrir Square, who were about to lead another revolution against it," El-Sadat said.

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