Egypt election: Islamists do well in early vote count

Election workers sit next to stacks of unopened ballot papers at a counting centre in Cairo, 30 November 2011
Image caption The main Islamist party is predicted to have won 40% of the vote in Egypt's election

The first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections saw a big turnout, and it is clear from unofficial results that Islamist parties will do very well.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned under the government of President Hosni Mubarak, has said it is leading the initial count, without giving figures.

"From the start of the voting process until now, preliminary results show the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] list ahead," a statement from the group said early on Wednesday.

There were predictions it had secured over 40% of votes.

However a senior member of the FJP, Amr Darrag, said it was too soon to make projections because of delays in the count.

"We still do not have an accurate estimate," he told the BBC, "but it's going fine."

'Huge' turnout

A member of the interim military leadership estimated that 70% of voters had cast their ballots in the nine provinces where polling took place over two days.

There was general enthusiasm for the first parliamentary election since the overthrow of President Mubarak in February. Some voters also said they did not want to risk a statutory fine of £E500 ($83) for not participating.

At some points, there were queues of more than 1,000 people in Cairo and Egypt's second-largest city, Alexandria.

Image caption The large turnout has led to delays in counting the votes

"We are very satisfied with the election process and the huge turnout," said Nermeen Yusri, a Cairo spokeswoman for the Democratic Coalition that includes the FJP and smaller Islamist parties.

She said that some neighbourhoods of the capital, such as Helwan and Maadi, had seen intense competition with the liberal Egyptian Bloc.

According to several unconfirmed reports, the Egyptian Bloc has come second overall with a coalition dominated by the fundamentalist Islamist al-Nur party in third place.

The three main parties in the Egyptian Bloc are the Free Egyptians party co-founded by the Christian businessman, Neguib Sawiris, Tagummu and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

"Our expectations were exactly the same as the results," said Mohamed Abul Ghar, SDP leader. "We hoped to have 10 to 15% of the seats in parliament and we are getting this in the first phase.

"The disappointment is that the other liberals and leftist parties did not gain anything. Even remnants of Mubarak's [National Democratic] party [NDP] did not capture much. The Islamists have a clear majority."

Counting delayed

Party representatives have been closely monitoring election proceedings including the vote count.

State television said the results of the individual vote would be announced on Thursday, a day later than planned. The delay has mainly been caused by the large number of ballots to be processed.

The overall results, including for party lists, will not be known until January as the election is spread over six weeks.

Under a complicated system that makes it hard to predict the final outcome, two-thirds of the 498 elected seats go to party lists and the rest to individuals.

Independent Egyptian election monitors have been generally positive about the conduct of the vote but point to some irregularities, particularly political campaigning outside polling stations and examples of biased judges.

"There were mistakes made by all parties but the majority were made by the FJP and the Salafis [al-Nur]," said Magdy Abdul Hamid of the Egyptian Centre for the Enhancement of Community Participation.

"In some ways they copied and pasted the behaviour of the NDP in the past."

Previously, members of the Muslim Brotherhood ran as independents in elections, taking one-fifth of parliamentary seats in 2005. Their supporters were often harassed at the polls.

The backdrop to the vote had looked ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces which took over in February.

More than 40 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured.

There was anger that the ruling generals were seeking to protect their powers by drafting principles for the new constitution.

Image caption The dominance of the Islamists in the new parliament may affect the new constitution

'Critical moment'

During the elections the debate around the constitution has remained on hold but it will be the first challenge for the new parliament. It will be tasked with appointing a 100-member constituent assembly to draw up the document.

The constitution will address the distribution of powers between branches of government, the role of the military, citizens' rights and the place of Islam in public life.

Analysts have been reflecting on how the dominance of Islamists in the new parliament will affect the outcome.

"There are two questions hanging in the air," said Mustafa Kamal al-Sayyid a political science lecturer at the American University in Cairo.

"If the Islamists get a considerable number of votes, like 40 to 45% of the popular vote, how will this be reflected in the formation of the new government? Also, will the Supreme Council leave the constitutional draft entirely to the new parliament?"

He added that the rise of the Islamists, if confirmed by results in the whole election process would mark "a critical moment for Egypt".