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Voter turnout high, Islamists dominate in Egypt elections

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Eager to move beyond the repression and corruption of longtime President Hosni Mubarak’s government, Egyptians turned out in unprecedented numbers in the first round of parliamentary elections, authorities announced Friday.

Voter turnout in two days of balloting this week was 62%, said Abdul Moez Ibrahim, head of the election commission, who joked that the figure was the highest in any poll “since the pharaohs.”

Ibrahim said most races would be decided in runoffs next week. He did not release figures on party lists, which unofficial results showed were dominated by Islamists. The relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was projected to have won 40% of the overall vote, followed by the ultraconservative Salafi party Al Nour with about 20%.

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“The blood of martyrs has watered the tree of freedom, social justice and the rule of law. We are now reaping its first fruits,” Ibrahim said in remembering more than 800 protesters killed in the winter uprising that toppled Mubarak after more than three decades of autocratic rule.

The voting followed days of deadly demonstrations against the ruling military council that replaced Mubarak. Political parties have demanded that the army relinquish power, but the generals vowed not to step down until a president is elected in June. The new parliament will be subject to the army regarding legislation and the drafting of a constitution.

Tension between the military and Egyptian activists was further agitated Friday. Hours before the election commission’s announcement, several thousand protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to remember the 42 people killed during clashes with police over the last two weeks.

But many suggested the country should concentrate more on electing a parliament than on protesting.

“We will always have Tahrir to demonstrate in for our legitimate demands,” said Hassan Ibrahim, a barber. “But now we have to make the best out of these elections and not miss out on the opportunity to finally have a parliament that represents Egyptians.”

More than 8 million voters — more by far than in any election under Mubarak — turned out for the first round, which covered nine of Egypt’s 27 governorates. The second round begins Dec. 14 and the final round in January. The Brotherhood is expected to remain dominant but will probably be forced into forming a majority coalition in the parliament.

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Despite its religious roots, the Brotherhood says it espouses democracy and has promised to move quickly to fix a battered economy and failed public institutions. An overarching question is whether it will forge an alliance with a centrist secular party or with the puritanical Salafis. The latter group had a surprisingly strong showing in the elections, but its fundamentalist brand of Islam is off-putting to many of the Brotherhood’s 600,000 members.

In statements over the last two days, the Brotherhood has brushed aside suggestions it would form a bond with the Salafis, who have orchestrated attacks on churches and believe in limited rights for women. Salafi candidate Abdel Monem Shahat rattled intellectuals Thursday when he said the novels of the late Naguib Mahfouz, a Nobel Prize laureate, incited “promiscuity, prostitution and atheism.”

The Brotherhood has attempted to soothe secularists by emphasizing that civil liberties and religious tolerance will be protected in the new Egypt. Some liberal activists say that the outcome of the voting was less a mandate for instilling religion in government than it was a testament to the decades-long discipline and organizational skills of the once-outlawed Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has waited more than 80 years for this moment, appears intent on fashioning a political Islam that resonates not only with Egyptians but with other Islamist parties that are emerging across the region since the uprisings of the “Arab Spring.”

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Amro Hassan of The Times’ Cairo bureau contributed to this report.

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