Sunday, January 22, 2012

Egypt's Islamists win 75 percent of parliament

Muslim Brotherhood wins 47 percent of parliamentary seats, promises it will uphold peace agreement with Israel, but will re-examine all international agreements to which Egypt is signed • Ultraconservative Al-Nour Party wins 25%.
Daniel Siryoti and The Associated Press

Islamist parties took nearly three-quarters of the seats in Egypt’s parliament in the country’s first elections since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power last year, election officials and political groups reported on Saturday.

An Egyptian parliament dominated by hard-line Muslims has liberals and even some conservatives concerned that the new legislature will take an overly religious tone. The new parliament will be tasked with forming a committee to write a new constitution, and it remains unclear whether that document will be written while the generals who took power after Mubarak's fall are still in charge, or after presidential elections this summer. In the vote for the parliamentary lower house, a coalition led by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood won 47 percent, or 235 of the 498 parliamentary seats. The ultraconservative Al-Nour Party took second place with 25%, or 125 seats.

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The Salafi Al-Nour, which was initially the biggest surprise of the vote, wants to impose strict Islamic law in Egypt, while the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, the country's best-known and organized party, has said publicly that it does not seek to force its views about an appropriate Islamic lifestyle on the Egyptian public.

The two parties are unlikely to join forces because of ideological differences, but both have a long history of charity work in Egypt's vast poverty-stricken neighborhoods and villages, providing them with a degree of legitimacy and popularity across the country in areas where newer liberal parties have yet to gain a foothold.

Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagi said the new parliament represented "the wish of the Egyptian people."

At a press conference on Saturday, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badia said that his movement would uphold the peace agreement with Israel. He emphasized, however, that, "after the military council transfers power to elected civilian agencies, all international agreements that Egypt has signed will be re-examined."

Badia also said the brotherhood would demand a report from the military council leaders for all the mistakes they made during the past year. "Citizens lost their lives becaust of faulty instructions from the regime," Badia said.

Egypt's elections commission acknowledged that there were voting irregularities, but the vote has been hailed as the country's freest and fairest in living memory.

The liberals who spearheaded the revolt that toppled Mubarak struggled to organize and connect with a broader public in the vote, and did not fare as well as the Islamists.

The Egyptian bloc, which is headed by a party founded by Christian telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it won 9% of the vote. Egypt's oldest secular party, the Wafd, also won around 9%.

The liberal Revolution Continues Party, a new faction, won 2%, as did the Islamist Center Party, which was banned from politics under Mubarak.

The results leave the liberal groups with little ability to maneuver in parliament, unless they choose to mobilize the street in protests or work on key issues with the dominant Islamist groups, said Mohamed Abu-Hamed, the deputy leader of the liberal Free Egyptians Party.

The brotherhood has refused to join recent street protests, saying that elections and the new parliament are the best avenues for responding to demands that the military transfer power immediately to a civilian authority.

"The street and the parliament are not at opposite ends. The issues are not going to be resolved by protests, but through parliamentary laws," the brotherhood's el-Beltagi said.

The final tally, which includes at least 15 seats for former regime figures, bears few surprise as election results had been partly announced throughout the three stages of the vote, which took place over several weeks across the country.

The US. long shunned Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and turned a blind eye to the arrest and torture of Salafis under longtime U.S. ally Mubarak. Salafis now comprise the bulk of Al-Nour Party's constituents.

However, State Department officials have recently met with the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders, who have in turn assured Western officials that they respect minority rights and support democracy.

A White House statement said that President Barack Obama called Egypt's ruling military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on Friday and welcomed the historic seating of the lower house of Egypt's Parliament, which is set to convene for the first time on Monday. Activists have accused the country's military leaders of repressive tactics. Critics say the nearly 12,000 civilians who have faced military trials since Mubarak's ouster have not been afforded proper due process.

Chief military prosecutor Adel el-Morsi said that 1,959 people convicted in military courts since Mubarak's ouster would be released on the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising, which falls on Wednesday.

Among them would be Maikel Nabil Sanad, a blogger who was arrested in March and sentenced to two years in prison on charges of criticizing the armed forces and publishing false information for comments on his blog comparing the military to Mubarak's regime.

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