By: Jailan Zayan
November 30, 2011
Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood has claimed the lead in the first stage of the country’s first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak’s fall.
The movement’s Freedom and Justice Party said initial results showed its coalition ahead, followed by parties belonging to the hardline Islamist Salafi movements, then a coalition of secular movements in third.
On Monday and Tuesday, millions filed into polling stations in the capitalCairoand second cityAlexandriaas Egyptians embraced new freedoms won by the toppling of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February.
“The people have passed the democracy test,” headlined the independent newspaper Al-Shorouk on Tuesday, while the interim ruling military leaders expressed their “happiness” at proceedings.
“The election has been a huge success,” declared Ahmed Nashaat, a 29-year-old member of the leading Islamist party the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as night fell inCairoat the end of the voting.
Turnout had been high, he said, security well controlled by the army and police, while there was “no vote rigging worth mentioning” – a stark contrast with the 30-year Mubarak era when abuses were widespread.
Analysts warned, however, that the country faced huge challenges ahead in its long, complicated and uncertain transition to democracy that is scheduled to finish only in June next year under the current timetable.
The vote on Monday and Tuesday inCairo,Alexandriaand other areas was the first of three stages of an election for a new lower house of parliament. The rest of the country follows next month and in January.
The FJP, the party of the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, is expected to emerge as the largest power in the new lower parliament when final results are published on January 13.
The backdrop to the vote had been ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the interim military rulers who stepped in at the end of Mubarak’s rule. Forty-two people were killed and more than 3000 injured.
Egypt’s stock market closed up 5.48 per cent on Tuesday as investors welcomed the stability after weeks of falls caused by the political upheaval and unrest.
The successful first stage of the election was a boost for army leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who insisted voting should go ahead despite the unrest last week.
The army “played the election card to stabilise the country in the face of pressure from the street”, said Tewfik Aclimandos, an expert at the College de France, a leading academic institute.
Tantawi “expressed his happiness at the way the process was carried out and the high turnout, especially among women and the young”, said Ismail Etman, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Protesters last week had again occupiedTahrir SquareinCairo, the epicentre of protests against Mubarak, but this time they were calling for the resignation of Tantawi and his fellow generals.
The demonstrations stemmed from fears that the junta, initially welcomed as a source of stability after Mubarak’s fall, was looking to consolidate its power and was mishandling the transition period.
Figures for the turnout for Monday and Tuesday have not been officially given, but Etman from the SCAF estimated it could reach up to 70 per cent – unprecedented in the Mubarak era.
Once final results are published on January 13, the country will then head into another three rounds of voting to elect an upper house, in a process widely criticised for its complexity.