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Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt began shutting polling stations as the initial phase of parliamentary voting drew to a close in the first election since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Polls closed at 7 p.m. local time except at stations where voters who arrived before that time haven’t yet cast ballots, state television said. Lines were shorter today, after voters rushed to take part yesterday, forcing the election commission to extend voting hours. Preliminary results may be announced tomorrow.
The head of the commission, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, and Ghada Shahbender, a member of the Board of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, both said the turnout exceeded expectations. The benchmark stock index surged the most in almost two years as investors welcomed the largely peaceful vote.
The run-up to the three-stage poll, which ends in January, was overshadowed by clashes in the week before voting that left 43 people dead. Protesters accuse the ruling generals of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive an economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a decade. Thousands have gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding that the generals step down. The army says it won’t cede power before presidential elections due by the end of June.
‘Major First Step’
The enthusiasm for voting suggests a disconnect between the protesters and most Egyptians, said David Hartwell, an analyst at London-based forecaster IHS Global Insight. Many, “although unhappy with the way the military have so far handled the transition, see the elections as a major first step toward the political reconstitution of the country.”
Shahbender said the protesters had contributed and “it’s thanks to the Tahrir movement that people have regained confidence in themselves and their power.”
Such differences were on display in central Cairo today, where Sayed Saeed was part of a small group of protesters camped outside the Cabinet building demanding that the military step down. “We have been fooled,” he said. “There are no jobs. We have to stay in line for hours to get a loaf of bread, the police are still mistreating us, corruption is still there. What has our revolution accomplished?”
He was chided by a passerby, 62-year-old Adel Mohammed Ezzat, a street bookseller who said he had just voted for the secular Wafd party. “The country’s problems have piled up over the years,” he told Saeed. “We have to have patience. If you are asking for reform, you shouldn’t disrupt life and block roads. It takes me forever to go to work. Protests and sit-ins are not the only way to bring about change.”
A scuffle broke out today in Tahrir between activists and street vendors, though no one was seriously hurt, said Yamen Hamza, a protester who was in the square at the time.
The EGX 30 stock index jumped 5.5 percent as the high turnout and absence of violence boosted expectations that the vote will help ease tensions and smooth the transition to democratic rule. The exchange was closed yesterday.
The unrest in Egypt has hurt the economy, as tourists have shunned the country and industrial production has been hit by strikes. Gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade.
Even after today’s gain, the EGX 30 is down 44 percent this year. Egypt’s credit rating was cut one level to B+, four steps below investment grade, at Standard & Poor’s on Nov. 24. The yield on dollar bonds due April 2020 climbed 82 basis points last week to 6.97 percent, the highest since January.
Vote In Stages
Voting for the lower house of parliament in the Arab world’s most populous country will take place in stages, corresponding to three sets of governorates. The first stage concludes today. Final results are due by Jan. 13. There was no serious violence, though a row among voters at one polling station left a supervising judge with an injured nose, election board chief Ibrahim said.
Some results from ballots cast outside the country have arrived in Cairo, indicating that as many as 70 percent of registered expatriates cast ballots, the Cabinet said in an e- mailed statement.
The Freedom and Justice Party, set up by Egypt’s once- banned Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to emerge as one of the largest blocs in the parliament.
The Brotherhood has stayed away from most recent protests to focus on canvassing. Founded in 1928, the group’s organizational skills, support networks and name-recognition may help give it an edge over the secular youth who were at the forefront of the leaderless anti-Mubarak revolt.
Islamist groups have already won elections in Morocco and Tunisia, where the region’s wave of uprisings began a year ago.
‘Time For Justice’
At a polling station in the Bab el-Sharia neighborhood of Cairo, Kamel El Sayed, a retired soldier, said he planned to vote for the Brotherhood’s party. “It’s time we had justice,” he said. “We were all oppressed under the former regime. The most important thing is for security to be restored.”
Billionaire Naguib Sawiris, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority and co-founder of the secular Free Egyptians Party, warned last night that “the most dangerous thing for Egypt is the issue of religious polarization, the attempt to use religion in elections, be it from the Muslim Brotherhood or from the Church.”
Sawiris, speaking in an interview on Al Arabiya television, also said that the high turnout showed the engagement of the so- called “couch party” -- Egyptians who haven’t played an active role in this year’s protests -- in the election. “Most of them are not for a religious state,” he said.
--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland, Mahmoud Kassem.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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