Egypt‘s Islamist party plans to push for a stricter religious code after claiming strong gains in the first round of parliamentary elections.
Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafists appear to have taken a majority of seats in the first round of Egypt’s first parliamentary vote since the ousting of Mubarak.
Egypt’s election commission announced few results, but said turnout was 62%, the highest in the country’s modern history.
Leaked preliminary counts indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm took the largest share of votes. Following closely behind was the ultra-conservative Islamist Nour party and a liberal coalition, according to unofficial counts.
Spokesman Yousseri Hamad said the Salafi Nour party, which wants sharia law to be an integral part of Egypt’s new constitution, expected to get 30% of the vote and was leading the polls in the rural Nile delta province of Kafr el-Sheik, known for high rates of illiteracy and poverty, and in parts of its longtime stronghold of Alexandria.
Hamad said the party faced its toughest challenge in Cairo because of the small presence of Salafi supporters there but polling elsewhere has put it in a strong position to influence policy, although it’sit is unclear how much power the new parliament will have with the ruling generals still in powercharge. Hamad said his party was willing to co-operate with secular, liberal and Islamist forces “if it will serve the interest of the nation”.
As votes were being counted in nine provinces, accounting for about 30% of the 498 seats in parliament’s lower house, anti-military protests continued in Cairo. Two more rounds, ending in January, will cover Egypt’s other 18 provinces.
The new parliament, in theory, will select a 100-member panel to draft Egypt’s new constitution.
The al-Nour party is the main political arm of the hard-line Salafi movement which, unlike the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, is a new player on Egypt’s political scene.
Guided by a Saudi-inspired school of thought, Salafists have long shunned the concept of democracy, saying it allows man’s law to override God’s. But they decided to form parties and enter politics after the exit of Mubarak in February.
Salafi groups speak confidently about their ambition to turn Egypt into a state where personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, women’s dress and art, are constrained by sharia.
“In the land of Islam, I can’t let people decide what is permissible or what is prohibited. It’s God who gives the answers as to what is right and what is wrong,” Hamad said. “If God tells me you can drink whatever you want except for alcohol, you don’t leave the million things permitted and ask about the prohibited.”
The showing in Egypt, long considered a linchpin of regional stability, would be the clearest signal yet that parties and candidates connected to political Islam will emerge as the main beneficiaries of the Arab spring.
Tunisia and Morocco have both elected Islamist majorities to parliament and, while Libya has yet to announce dates for its first elections, Islamist groups have emerged as a strong force since rebels overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in August. They also play a strong opposition role in Yemen