Islamists Look to Extend Lead in Egypt Voting

Posted December 14th, 2011 at 7:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Egyptians turned out in large numbers Wednesday for a second phase of parliamentary elections, with Islamist parties looking to extend their already overwhelming electoral gains.

Polls were held in nine areas, including Aswan, Beni Suef, Giza, Ismailia, Suez and Sohag. Nearly 19 million Egyptians were eligible to cast ballots in the second round of the three-phase legislative elections. A second day of voting will take place Thursday.

Voters are choosing seats in the 498-member lower house of parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the conservative al-Nour Salafi Islamist party, which want Egypt to adhere strictly to the principles of Islamic law, dominated the first round of voting in late November.

Some in the West are alarmed by the front-running status of Islamist parties. But some Islamists are raising alarms of their own, warning of Western-style freedoms, such as gay marriage, to bring voters to their side in the rural areas.

Egyptians working in the tourism industry worry that conservatives in the next parliament may have a negative impact on their business. For tourists this could mean a ban on alcohol and wearing bikinis on the beaches. A spokesman for the Salafi Nour party recently suggested that pharaonic monuments like the Sphinx are idolatrous and should be covered up.

But Salafis say they do not want to hurt tourism, just make it “sin-free.” They have put forth several suggestions, including gender-segregated beaches, and allowing tourists to drink alcohol only in their hotel rooms.

A third round of elections covering the remaining nine provinces will take place in early January.

The parliamentary elections are Egypt's first since a popular uprising ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

Elections for parliament's less powerful upper house will begin in late January and finish in March, after which the assembly will write a new constitution.