Egyptian Islamists face tough coalition choice

Egyptian Islamists face tough coalition choice

Egyptian Islamists face tough coalition choice

An Egyptian woman votes in the Moqattam district of Cairo. AFP photo

Islamists appear to have taken a strong majority of seats in round one of Egypt’s first parliamentary vote since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, an indicator that if confirmed would give religious parties a popular mandate in the struggle to win control from the ruling military.

The final result, expected Dec. 2, will be the clearest indication in decades of the true political views of the Egyptian people and give the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood a major role in the country’s first freely elected parliament. The Brotherhood said on its website its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is set to win about 43 percent of seats.

The battle for second place had been seen as between secular liberals and hard-line Islamists who follow the strict Salafi brand of Islam. Al-Nour Party, one of several newly formed ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist groups, was expected to pick up 30 percent of assembly seats, according to the FJP’s latest chart on its website. The liberal multi-party Egyptian Bloc has said it is on track to secure about a fifth of votes for party lists.

If the FJP and al-Nour secure the number of seats they expect, they could combine to form a solid majority bloc, although it is far from certain the Brotherhood would want such an alliance, possibly preferring a wider coalition to guarantee stability. Critics say the Brotherhood will band together with its Islamist allies to impose stricter social codes. Many in Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority fear they will face new restrictions on building churches.

Senior FJP official Essam el-Erian said before the vote that Salafists, who had kept a low profile and shunned politics during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, would be “a burden for any coalition.” Salafists believe the Brotherhood has made too many compromises in its strategy to enter mainstream politics. The FJP might seek other partners, such as the liberal Wafd or the moderate Islamist al-Wasat Party, which were set up by ex-Brotherhood members in 1996 but only licensed after Mubarak’s fall.

The prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises fears among liberals about civil liberties and religious freedom in a country with the Middle East’s largest Christian minority and tolerance of multi-party democracy. Some Egyptians fear the Brotherhood might try to impose Islamic curbs on a tourism-dependent country whose 80 million people include a 10 percent Coptic Christian minority. Yet the Brotherhood, with deep roots in Egyptian society dating back to 1928, says its priorities are ending corruption, reviving the economy and establishing a true democracy in Egypt.

An Islamist majority could also herald a greater role for conservative Islam in Egyptian social life and shifts in foreign policy. Israel, which has long considered its peace treaty with Egypt a buffer against regional war, worries Islamists will be less cooperative than Mubarak. Israel is highly unpopular in most of Egyptian society and Brotherhood leaders have suggested they will review Egypt’s relationship with Israel. They may also deepen ties with Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.