While the balloting this week was only the first round in a multi-phase parliamentary vote that will last until March, analysts said the Islamists’ apparent early success reflects the identity-based campaigns that preceded the vote.
“The Salafi ascent is a reaction to the Egyptian Bloc,” said Ibrahim Houdaiby, an analyst and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, referring to the main liberal and secular coalition, which had run advertisements implying that Islamist parties would turn Egypt into “the next Afghanistan.”
“These politicians coalesced around identity, not around policy,” Houdaiby said. “Egyptians were asked a question of identity: Do you want this country to be secular, or do you want it to be Islamic. People chose Islamic.”
Early projections showed the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party taking more than 40 percent of the votes in the nine provinces that voted this week, followed by the the Nour party with anywhere from 10 to 25 percent. Official preliminary results, twice postponed, were still not public Thursday.
‘Cooperation, not conflict’
Speculation now centers on what the newly empowered Freedom and Justice Party will do in the next parliament.
Will it work with centrists, analysts asked, as it has consistently indicated that it would do? Or could its members feel pressure to ally with the more hard-line Salafists, who follow an inflexible form of Islam that limits the role of women and who are likely to advocate a ban on alcohol, over the objections of the tourism industry and liberal Egyptians?
“The Muslim Brotherhood has to make a decision to form an alliance with the Salafi party and create a more Islamist state or try to form a coalition with more liberal elements,” said Marina Ottaway, an Egypt expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The Freedom and Justice Party has called for a strong and inclusive parliament and has been quick to point out that two-thirds of the country has yet to vote for the lower chamber, before balloting begins for the upper chamber. It has cited its electoral alliance with liberal parties as a sign of its willingness to be inclusive. And it denied in a statement on its Web site Thursday that it was allied with the Nour party.
“We are looking for cooperation, not conflict,” said Essam el-Erian, the Freedom and Justice Party’s vice president. “There is no absolute majority, and there will be 12 or 13 parties in the parliament.”