Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood claims strong showing in vote

November 30, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party said Wednesday that unofficial preliminary results from this week’s parliamentary elections in nine Egyptian provinces show it is in the lead, followed by a more conservative Islamist party.

If final results confirm the projection, which is in line with what political analysts have been predicting, Islamists will play a major role in drafting the country’s new constitution. The process will tackle complicated and fraught issues, including the role of the once universally venerated Egyptian military and the extent to which Islam will shape policy.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said its information about preliminary results showed its candidates had won as much as 40 percent of the votes cast Monday and Tuesday, the first phase of a staggered three-month election for the two houses of parliament.

The party also said that candidates associated with the outlawed National Democratic Party, who ran as independents, did poorly. The NDP, the party of former president Hosni Mubarak, was ruthless toward the Brotherhood during his reign, tolerating it only as a weak opposition. “This clearly confirms that the Egyptian people exercised their right to politically isolate elements of the former regime,” the Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement.

The Nour party, which is run by ultraconservative Muslims called Salafists, appeared to have received the second-highest number of votes, the Freedom and Justice Party said. The Egyptian Bloc, a coalition of liberal parties, was reportedly running third.

Kafr el-Sheik, a spokesman for Nour, said party officials project they could get 20 to 30 percent of the votes cast in the first phase of the election. The party appears to have had its strongest showing in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, which is more conservative than Cairo.

Egyptian officials said they expect to release official preliminary results Thursday, but party representatives monitoring the counting of ballots have disclosed some of the results. Citing judges involved in the count, the Associated Press reported results that matched the Freedom and Justice Party’s.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center and an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, said the preliminary results were not surprising. “The Brotherhood was going to win,” he said Wednesday. “The question was by how much.”

The Brotherhood’s unrivaled army of volunteers and campaigners appears to have given it an edge in the first election since Mubarak was ousted in February.

Because this week’s vote was the first election in Egyptian history expected to be legitimate, it was the first real barometer of the electorate in the Arab world’s largest country. The Brotherhood’s candidates did not win any seats in the last parliamentary election, rigged by the NDP, which was held a year ago.

When a new parliament is seated, the Freedom and Justice Party has said it intends to form a coalition government. Hamid said the party would almost certainly push for the establishment of a strong parliamentary system that would limit the powers of the military.

The ruling military council, whose leaders have had a difficult and at times combative relationship with the Brotherhood, is widely expected to push back.

“It’s inevitable there will be a confrontation,” Hamid said.

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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