Egyptians in Cairo, Alexandria Vote in Runoff Elections for Parliament

Posted December 5th, 2011 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Egyptians in the country's two largest cities and other areas are going to the polls in a series of runoff elections for parliament, with Islamist parties expected to build on strong results from the first round of voting last week.

The runoff elections in Cairo, Alexandria and seven other provinces begin Monday and end Tuesday. They will determine the individual winners of 52 seats in parliament's 498-member lower house. Only four individual candidates won seats in the last week's first round by securing more than 50 percent of the votes in their constituencies.

Almost half of the runoff elections are a contest between Egypt's two main Islamist groups: the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party. Wins for either faction will add to their tally of seats from separate votes for party lists. The two Islamist parties won a big majority of party-list ballots that voters cast at the same time as choosing individual candidates last week.

Party-list results released on Sunday put the Freedom and Justice party in the lead with 37 percent, with the Nour Party in second place at 24 percent and the liberal Egyptian Bloc in third with 13 percent.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders reacted to the results by calling on their rivals to “accept the people's choice.” Observers had expected the country's best-organized political movement to do well in the first parliamentary elections since a popular uprising forced autocratic president Hosni Mubarak to step down in February.

Residents of Egypt's remaining 18 provinces will cast ballots in two further stages of voting in the coming weeks. Elections for parliament's less-powerful upper house will begin in late January and finish in March.

The Brotherhood was officially banned for decades under Mr. Mubarak but its members continued to engage in politics as independents while establishing a nationwide network of charities popular with millions of impoverished Egyptians.

Egypt's Salafists shunned politics in the Mubarak era but decided to compete for parliament after the military council that took over from him promised free elections.

Followers of the Salafist Nour party advocate a stricter interpretation of Islam that calls for segregation of the sexes, the full veiling of women and a ban on alcohol. The party's strong showing in the first round of voting has worried many liberal Egyptians who see it as a threat to their civil liberties.

Prominent Egyptian liberal and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei told the Associated Press that the liberal youth groups behind the February revolution were “decimated” in the election results. He blamed their losses on a failure to unify their movement.

Israel, which shares a border and 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, has expressed deep concern about the initial success of the Islamist parties. In a speech Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hope that “any government to be formed in Egypt will recognize the importance of keeping the peace treaty with Israel in its own right and as a basis for regional security and economic stability.”