Egypt’s Islamists Take Big Early Election Lead


egypt-muslim-brotherhoodIslamist parties appeared to have swept the first round of elections for an Egyptian parliament that will probably erase the secular rule of Hosni Mubarak with a politics more intensely driven by religion.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was projected to have won at least 40 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results leaked by election judges. That margin indicates that the group, whose religious rigor and social programs bolstered it for decades against a repressive police state, is emerging as Egypt’s most potent political force.

Official results were scheduled to be released Thursday. The election commission pushed the announcement to today, saying a larger than expected turnout slowed the counting of ballots.

It was too early – and confusing – to predict what would unfold over the next six weeks in a multistage parliamentary contest. The unofficial results were from nine of the nation’s 27 governorates – including Cairo and Alexandria, the two most populous cities. But they suggest that Egyptians, voting in their first free elections in more than 50 years, want a government imbued with Islamic law.

Brotherhood members were jubilant at a political legitimacy the organization has been denied since it was founded by an activist schoolteacher in 1928.

This means the Freedom and Justice Party “is capable of winning a majority of the incoming parliament and forming a government,” Mohamed Mursi, the party’s chairman, told Egyptian media.

That sense of victory echoes in prominent voices across the Middle East and North Africa following the upheavals of the “Arab Spring.” The moderate Islamic Nahda Party dominated Tunisia’s elections in October and Islamists in Libya are demanding a more pious nation than envisioned by the late Moammar Khadafy. These elements are hardening the Arab world’s attitudes toward the United States and Israel.

Cairo’s historical regional influence hints that this moment of seminal change is shaping the contours of a burgeoning political Islam in much the same way that late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser attempted to inspire the region in the 1960s with his ultimately failed brand of Pan-Arabism.

Islamists are in a “pole position to win a considerable share of power in the Arab Spring,” said Mustafa Kamal Sayed, a political scientist at Cairo University. “Many Arab countries tried socialism, communism and capitalism and none of them worked well in the eyes of the people.”

The prowess by the Brotherhood and the surprisingly strong showing by the ultraconservative Salafi al-Nour Party, which is projected to finish second with 20 percent of the vote, worried liberals and secularists that Islamists will set the country’s agenda, including the drafting of a constitution. The Egyptian Bloc, a coalition of secular parties, is expected to come in third.

{San Francisco Chronicle/ Newscenter}