Bloomberg News

Egypt Islamists Compete as First Round of Elections Ends

December 07, 2011

(Updates with comment from voter in eighth paragraph, el- Ganzouri comment in 16th.)

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Egyptian voters complete run-offs today for the first round of an election that has Islamist groups vying to control the first parliament since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak.

Partial results from the vote in Cairo, Alexandria and seven other provinces showed strong support for Salafi Islamists, whose newly formed Nour party secured the second- largest share with 24 percent of ballots after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, which led with 37 percent. The secular Egyptian Bloc came third with about 13 percent of votes.

Egypt’s first elections since the ouster of Mubarak in February consist of two further rounds covering the country’s remaining 18 governorates. Islamist groups have already won elections this year in Morocco and Tunisia, where the wave of uprisings began a year ago. Due to a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists as well as individual candidates, the makeup of the Egyptian assembly won’t be clear until final results are announced in January.

The Freedom and Justice Party “seems to have emerged as the middle ground in Egyptian politics, with hard-line Islamists to the right and hard-line pro-democracy groups to the left,” Raza Agha, senior economist for the Middle East and North Africa at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in London, said in an e-mailed note. “What makes their position even more delicate is that they have had no governing experience, and even less experience in running any coalitions.”

Interim Cabinet

Prime Minister-designate Kamal el-Ganzouri said he has finished forming a new interim Cabinet that will be announced tomorrow, state television reported. Many protesters reject his appointment by the military council and say they want a new government with more powers.

El-Ganzouri said the ruling military council will announce “within hours” a law giving the prime minister the powers of the president “except in the areas of the judiciary and the armed forces,” Egypt’s state news agency reported today.

Tensions between the two main Islamist groups emerged yesterday when Freedom and Justice supporters in Fayoum province filed complaints against Nour for “campaigning violations,” the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. In the southern governorate of Assiut, a “verbal fight” over campaign territory broke out between the supporters of the Brotherhood’s party and another Islamist group, Hussein Ragheb, an official with Freedom and Justice, said by telephone.

Divided by Religion

Many polling stations today had few voters compared with the crowds that lined up during the initial vote.

For Mona Mohram, a 60-year-old voting in central Cairo today, the presence of a secularist bloc in parliament will be an important counterbalance to the Islamist groups. “We need to balance out the results,” she said. “I am a lawyer and I have studied Islamic Shariah. The question is how you interpret religion, we will not put up with extremist interpretations. I want democracy and rotation of power. This is why we went to Tahrir in the first place,” she said, referring to the plaza in Cairo that has been the center of anti-government protests.

Ahmed Mahmoud, 54, said he voted for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party because “they are responsible people who have offered a lot of services to Egyptians even when the government was fighting them.” The Salafis are “still in kindergarten when it comes to politics,” he said, adding that they’re bound to gain more experience now that they’re contesting elections.

Tahrir Legacy

“We will defend our country,” said Mahmoud. “To whoever doesn’t realize the interests of our country and work to restore security and create jobs for the youth, I say: Tahrir Square is still there.”

Voting for the second round, which covers Giza, Suez, Ismailia and six other governorates, begins today for Egyptians living abroad, Mena said. Local voters in those provinces go to the polls on Dec. 14. The third round begins on Jan. 3 and final results are due 10 days later.

Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood is a broad-based movement operating in several Middle Eastern countries that runs teaching, medical and social programs as well as promoting Islamic values. Its party in Egypt promoted a pro-business stance ahead of elections, saying it would create jobs by directing investment toward industries, agriculture and information technology.

“Salafi” is a loose term applied to those who follow a strict interpretation of Islam, often opposing modern developments and emulating what they consider to be the practices of the earliest generations of Muslims.

Emerging Force

“There should have been no surprise” about the level of support for Nour, Yousry Hammad, a spokesman for the party, said by telephone yesterday. “Before, only a few players were in the limelight and the rest were marginalized, but we represent a big sector of Egyptians. Elections just showed our real presence.”

The election has failed to end protests against the ruling military council, with hundreds camping overnight in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after more than two weeks of rallies. Protesters accuse the generals of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive a struggling economy.

Egypt’s gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade. While the benchmark stock index rallied more than 8 percent last week, boosted by the high voter turnout and lack of violence, it’s still down 44 percent this year. The index dropped 0.8 percent to 3986.37 at 11:09 a.m. in Cairo today.

The Finance Ministry missed targets in two debt auctions this week as borrowing costs rose. Yesterday it raised 2.8 billion pounds ($466 million), compared with a goal of 5 billion pounds, in sales of three- and five-year bonds. The shorter notes were sold to yield 15.75 percent, up 29 basis points from a week earlier. The previous day, the ministry fell more than 10 percent short of its target in a sale of nine-month bills.

--With assistance from Mahmoud Kassem in Cairo. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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