Islamist parties won more than 60% of the vote in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, according to official results reported Sunday by state media.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won 36.6% and the Salafis of the Al Nour party won 24.4% of the 9.7 million votes cast. The Brotherhood’s dominance was expected, but the strong showing by the Salafis was a surprise, suggesting Egyptians were heavily influenced by the religious message and grass-roots organization of the Islamists.
If the trend continues in the second and third rounds, Islamists could control parliament. But in recent days the Muslim Brotherhood has distanced itself from the puritanical Salafis, attempting to strike a moderate tone that could possibly persuade secular and centrist parties to join it in a coalition government. The Brotherhood is pushing for a constitution anchored in Islamic law but has been careful not to emphasize religion over mending the nation’s severe economic and social problems.
The secular Egyptian Bloc finished third in the voting with 1.29 million ballots. The Wafd Party and the relatively moderate Islamic party Al Wasat finished with fewer than 1 million voters each.
The Islamists’ victory has been foreshadowed by preelection polls as well as by early unofficial reports about the elections’ outcome. But the official results showed just how thoroughly the young revolutionaries who plugged into social media to ignite a revolution that brought down President Hosni Mubarak in February had failed to excite voters. They won no more than 336,000 votes.
Hampered by political naivete, egos and lack of funding, the young activists were overwhelmed at the polls by better organized Islamists. The multiphase elections, which end in January, have so far indicated that activists in the Continuing Revolution party have been unable to turn the passion they inspired last winter in Tahrir Square into political capital.
“Young revolutionaries have struggled with political inexperience at some points and suffered from lack of funds and organization at others,” said Emad Gad, a political analyst with Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “This didn’t enable them to reach voters or carry out strong campaigns like those of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Egyptian Bloc.”
Unlike parties that began campaigning immediately after the revolution, young activists spent less time on politics than on repeated protests against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which replaced Mubarak and expanded martial law. Protests broke out days before the elections, leaving 42 people dead in clashes between demonstrators and riot police.
“We were camping in Tahrir up until two days before election day,” said Khaled Sayed, a prominent activist who lost his race in a Cairo suburb. “The second reason we didn’t do well was the sectarian nature of the voting instigated by the Islamists. This made many liberals vote for Egyptian Bloc as a balance to the Islamists.”
Continuing Revolution was formed by six new political parties and the Jan. 25 Revolution Youth Coalition. Its members are professionals in their 20s and 30s who used Facebook and other social media to rouse the Egyptian masses in protests that toppled Mubarak. But the young did not have the grass-roots support and the lure of religion that propelled Islamists. They also failed to reach beyond the Internet to connect directly with poor and middle-class Egyptians.
Many Egyptians regarded the activists as brash upstarts and not politicians who could lead the country out of economic and social turmoil. Continuing Revolution members are not expected to perform much better in the coming rounds of elections in southern and central governorates dominated by Islamists and tribal leaders. The Muslim Brotherhood, as expected, is benefiting from its piety and its decades-long reputation as the most credible opposition to Mubarak.
“The next parliament will be illegitimate because religious slogans were excessively used and religious parties violated election rules and regulations,” Aboul Ezz Hariri, a member of Continuing Revolution, told reporters. “This did not give newly formed parties the chance to fairly compete.”
The voting in the first round covered nine of the country’s 27 governorates, including the two biggest cities, Cairo and Alexandria. Authorities reported earlier that more than 8 million ballots were cast in two days of voting. They revised that later Sunday, saying 9.7 million votes were counted.
The second stage of elections is scheduled for Dec.14 and 15. The final round will take place Jan. 3 and 4.
Hassan is a news assistant in The Times’ Cairo bureau.