Amr Nabil, Associated Press
CAIRO — Egyptians turned out in large numbers Wednesday to vote in the second round of parliamentary elections that have become a stiff competition between dominant Islamist parties likely to steer the country in a more religious direction.
Two Islamist blocs won an overwhelming majority, close to 70 percent of seats contested, in the first round of voting on Nov. 28-29, according to an AP tally compiled from official results. The secular and liberal forces that largely drove Egypt's uprising failed to turn their achievement into a victory at the polls and were trounced.
The final two rounds of voting are not expected to dramatically alter the result and could even strengthen the Islamists' hand.
"We have to try Islamic rule to be able to decide if it's good for us," said 60-year-old voter Hussein Khattab an accountant waiting to vote at a polling station near iconic pyramids in Giza province on the western outskirts of Cairo. "If not, we can go back to Tahrir," he said, referring to the Cairo square that was the focus of the uprising in January and February.
He said he planned to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most organized and well-known party which was the big winner of the first round with about 47 percent of contested seats.
"I want to have a constitution that will satisfy everyone," he said. "This must achieve democracy, social justice and equality above all else."
The election is the first since longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster and is the freest and fairest in Egypt's modern history. In the first round of voting, many Egyptians were just ecstatic at the prospect of being able to participate in a real democratic election where their votes would actually count after decades of fraud and vote-rigging by Mubarak's former ruling party.
But the Islamists' surprisingly strong showing brought a new set of anxieties for some in a country already embroiled in chaos with a sharp deterioration in both security and the economy in the 10 months since the uprising. The two dominant Islamist Parties — the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice and the even more conservative Al-Nour bloc — together took about 68 percent of the seats up for grabs in the first round.
The Brotherhood faces its stiffest competition from Al-Nour, the party of Salafi Muslims whose ultraconservative interpretation of Islam is similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia. Al-Nour bloc won an unexpectedly strong 21 percent of seats in the first round.
While both Islamist, the two parties say they will pursue different priorities and it is unclear how closely they will work together in parliament.
The Brotherhood is sending mixed messages in terms of how strongly it will push to limit personal freedom's such as women's dress. Some have tried to assure the public they do not intend to strictly impose Islamic law, or Shariah. However other Brotherhood leaders have indicated a more hard-line direction, for example by suggesting tourists don't need to drink alcohol.
The Salafis state openly that they will push for Islamic law to be strictly enforced, and some have railed against tourists who wear bikinis at beach resorts popular with foreigners. At a recent campaign rally in the coastal city of Alexandria, Salafis covered a mermaids on a statue with cloth.
The Brotherhood also benefited from a highly organized campaign, a large network of activists across the nation, many of whom broke election rules during the first round by actively campaigning outside polling stations on voting days.
Still, religiously based parties appealed to many voters who believe they'll run a clean government. Public anger over rampant corruption under Mubarak was a major impetus behind the uprising. The Islamist groups are also known to many for providing social services, especially to the poor, something that Mubarak's regime failed to offer.
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