Islamists dominate Egyptian election
Spurred on by a massive turnout of near 70% of eligible voters -- thanks to a threatened fine for non-participation -- the Egyptian people went to the polls on Monday and Tuesday and appear to have elected an Islamist majority parliament.
Political Islamists look likely to dominate Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliament, with sweeping victories for religious parties predicted in the first round of elections.
With preliminary results trickling through from Cairo, Alexandria and seven other regions, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party seems set to emerge as the biggest winner, with some analysts estimating it will capture about 40% of seats in the new legislature. Al-Nour, a more conservative Salafist party, looks likely to secure second place.
Despite some notable individual triumphs, Egypt's liberal and leftist political forces appear to have fallen short compared with their rivals, though the Egyptian Bloc - a largely secular alliance headed by the billionaire telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris - will be encouraged by its strong showing in certain districts in the capital.
Official results from the first round will not be announced until Thursday , before a series of runoff ballots on Monday. Under a complex electoral system, the country is voting in three regional phases, with final results for the lower house of parliament arriving on 13 January and for the upper house on 14 March.
While not a total shock, the fact that the Salifists finished a strong second raised a few eyebrows. The party ran well in Alexandria and some neighborhoods in Cairo.
The liberal secularists represented by the Egyptian block made a miserable showing, partly because it wasn't until recently that they agreed to participate at all. It hardly mattered, though, because the Freedom and Justice Party -- the Brotherhood's political front organization -- was the only party with any name recognition, having been around for decades.
I wrote in my piece for FrontPage.com this morning about what the FJP will do with this new found power:
But the coming electoral victory appears to have emboldened the Islamists. Despite what FJP leaders say was a "convergence" of interests with the military in the past, the party is now demanding the right to form a government without interference from the military, and subsequently choose a civilian cabinet. This almost certainly won't sit well with the military council because it is likely that parliament would want to set up its own process for writing a new constitution - a deadly threat to the military, which has made it clear it will tolerate no scrutiny of its budget, no change in the economic advantages members hold, and will expect to have a strong voice in running the new parliament.
"The Brotherhood wants a strong parliament and the military council wants a weak one. The reason the Brotherhood fought for parliament is because they're going to use it as an agent of change," says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. He adds that the path the FJP has chosen has put it on a collision course with the military.
This is why many observers believe the Brotherhood will move cautiously in trying to establish an Islamic state. They are more likely to follow the example of the Justice and Development party in Turkey that gradually imposed a more Islamic system on the country over the period of time since 2002 when they were elected.
The voting will continue over the next month. Barring surprises, Egypt should seat its most freely elected parliament in its history next January. And it will be a parliament dominated by radical Muslims.