Last updated: 15 December, 2011

Egyptians head to polls again in landmark election

Egyptians on Thursday wrapped up the second round of a phased election to choose the first post-revolution parliament, as liberals faced an uphill battle to compete with Islamist parties.

Ten months after a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the country’s new political landscape looks set to be dominated by Islamist parties which clinched two thirds of the votes in the opening stage of the election.

The turnout was noticeably smaller than Wednesday, in the second round which involved nine of the country’s 27 provinces.

Voting ended at 7:00 PM (1700 GMT) in most areas, but those inside polling stations after closing time were allowed to cast their ballots.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which snatched most seats in the opening phase through its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was eager to sustain the momentum by urging Egyptians to turn out to vote in numbers.

But liberal parties have accused Islamist movements of using their influence and money to continue campaigning on polling days in violation of electoral rules.

Amr Hamzawy, who won a seat in the first round with the liberal coalition, the Egyptian bloc, slammed the “continued use of religious slogans.”

In an article in the independent Al-Shorouq daily, he urged the electoral commission to “look into striking party lists and candidates who continue” to violate the rules.

Election commission chairman Abdel Moez Ibrahim acknowledged that despite efforts to prevent it, campaigning had been reported in several polling stations.

“It’s something that troubles me very, very, very much,” he told reporters.

Blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah voted on Thursday from the Tora prison where he is being held on charges of inciting violence during a demonstration in October.

Voters are required to cast three ballots — two for individual candidates and one for a party or coalition — for the 498 elected seats in the lower house of parliament.

The ruling military council which took power when Mubarak was ousted in February will nominate a further 10 MPs.

The second round of the three-stage polls was taking place in Cairo’s twin city of Giza; Beni Sueif, south of the capital; the Nile Delta provinces of Menufiya, Sharqiya and Beheira; the canal cities of Ismailiya and Suez, and the southern cities of Sohag and Aswan.

Balloting began on Wednesday with a “large voter turnout,” said Hamdi Badeen, a member of the ruling council.

Parties affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi movements won 65 percent of the vote in the first phase, trouncing liberal parties which managed 29.3 percent.

“We tried the liberals and the secularists and they did nothing for us,” said one voter, Mohammed Rashad, on Wednesday, referring to Mubarak’s party. “The Islamists have God’s law.”

Liberal secularists who have felt elbowed out of the political process are now trying to carve out a role for themselves after the elections.

“We must anticipate in advance, we must no longer be taken by surprise by events,” said renowned painter Mohammed Abla, 58.

“The intellectuals must absolutely play a role in the drafting of the country’s constitution,” he told a meeting of artists in Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood had been widely forecast to triumph as the country’s best organised political movement, well known after decades of charitable work and its endurance through repeated crackdowns by the Mubarak regime.

But the good showing from Salafist groups was a surprise, raising fears of a more conservative and overtly religious legislature.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been at pains to stress its commitment to multi-party democracy, inclusiveness and civil liberties, while also advocating the application of Islamic sharia law.

Nevertheless, the prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises fears among liberals about religious freedom in a country with the Middle East’s largest Christian minority.

Much remains unclear about how the new parliament will function and whether it will be able to resolve a standoff with the armed forces over how much power they will retain under a new constitution to be written next year.

After the voting for the lower house of parliament, which will end in January, Egyptians will then elect an upper house in a further three rounds of polls.