Egypt heads to ballots amid secular concerns

Egypt heads to ballots amid secular concerns

Egypt heads to ballots amid secular concerns

Egyptian soldiers and police guard the entrance as an election volunteer (R) organizes the line waiting to cast their ballot in the run-off of the first round of voting. AFP photo

Egyptians again headed to the polls yesterday for two days of runoffs in their first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, a balloting in which Islamist parties already captured an overwhelming majority of the votes in the first round.

The runoffs are unlikely to change the Islamists’ gains, which have dealt a huge blow to liberals behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak 10 months ago. The runoff races have fundamentalist Islamist candidates contesting each other and also secular candidates for the remainder of the 52 seats that were up for grabs in the first found. There are still two more rounds of voting staggered over the coming weeks.

According to results released Dec. 4, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 percent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists. The ultraconservative Salafists’ Al-Nour Party, a more hard-line Islamist group, captured 24.4 percent, while the secular Egyptian Bloc won 13.4 percent of the votes. ” Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, emerging as the biggest winner in the first round of parliamentary elections, is seeking to reassure Egyptians that it will not sacrifice personal freedoms in promoting Islamic law. “We welcome the Egyptian people’s choice,” FJP spokesman Ahmed Sobea told AFP on Sunday after the publication of results.

The deputy head of the Brotherhood’s new political party, Essam el-Erian, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Saturday that the group is not interested in imposing Islamic values on Egypt, home to a sizable Christian minority and others who object to being subject to strict Islamic codes. “We represent a moderate and fair party,” el-Erian said of his Freedom and Justice Party. “We want to apply the basics of Shariah law in a fair way that respects human rights and personal rights,” he said, referring to Islamic law.

The surge in Salafist groups, which advocate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia, was a surprise and raised fears among increasingly marginalized liberals about civil liberties and religious freedom.

Egypt’s top reformist leader and a Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, has said the liberal youth behind the country’s uprising have been “decimated” in parliamentary elections dominated by Islamists and expressed concern about the rise of hard-line religious elements advocating extremist ideas such as banning women from driving. He said he hopes moderate Islamists will rein in the extremists and send a reassuring message to the world that Egypt will not go down an ultraconservative religious path. “The youth feel let down. They don’t feel that any of the revolution’s goals have been achieved.”