To the dismay of the secular liberal forces behind February’s overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Islamist parties dominated the first phase of the Egyptian election, according to provisional results.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, as expected, emerged with the largest share with 36.6 per cent of the vote. Defying expectations, the far more funadamentalist al-eNour - the “Party of Light” - emerged in second place with 24.4 per cent. It is backed by Egypt’s growing community of Salafists, adherents of one of the most puritanical strains of Islam.
With the moderately Islamist al-Wesat winning 4.3 per cent of the vote, religious parties are just shy of a two-thirds majority that would give them the power to draft a new constitution without reference to secular rivals, which made a poor showing.
The rise of al-Nour has caused particular alarm among liberals. Their leaders openly espouse the introduction of the harshest interpretation of Islamic law.
They call for women to be segregated and veiled, the ban of alcohol, the stoning of adulterers and the amputation of the hands of thieves.
Al Nour was just pipped into second place in the city of Alexandria, where last month Salafists covered its Fountain of Zeus, adorned with bare-breasted sirens, in a veil and erected a sign proclaiming: “Egyptian women devote themselves to their husbands and their nation”.
The first phase of the vote will be completed on Monday, when run-offs in 52 constituencies are held, 45 of which involve candidates from Freedom and Justice and 26 from al Nour.
Two further rounds will follow over the next few weeks for the remaining two-thirds of seats in the 498-house of parliament, but with the remaining constituencies mostly in conservative parts of the countries, hopes for a liberal rebound look remote.
The results so far will disappoint those who hoped for an even balance between religious and secular parties.
But the Muslim Brotherhood has hinted that it will not necessarily side with its more extreme allies in al-Nour, raising the prospect that it could ally itself to secular parties.
Seeking to allay the fears of Egyptian liberals, Essam el-Erian, the deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice party, said: “We represent a moderate and fair party. We want to apply the basics of Sharia law in a fair way that respects human rights and personal rights.”
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