Tahrir spirit fades as early results show Islamist gains in Egypt

December 2, 2011

A record 62 percent of voters cast ballots in the first phase of Egypt’s parliamentary elections this week, the country’s High Judicial Election Commission announced Friday, a turnout that analysts say reflects broad approval of the ruling military council’s plan for transition to civilian government despite mass protests against its authority.

At a chaotic and twice-postponed news conference, the head of the commission, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, announced clear winners of four seats and said there would be runoff polls after more ambiguous results in most other areas. The initial numbers indicated that, as predicted, Islamist parties had done well.

Results of parallel voting for party lists, as opposed to individuals, will not be published until lower house elections are completed in January. Ibrahim cited some problems with this week’s poll, including campaigning outside voting stations and isolated cases of violence, concerns echoed in a statement by the Carter Center, which has been observing the elections.

Meanwhile, protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square marched with banners, paraded coffins and released black balloons in memory of more than 40 demonstrators killed in clashes last week after Egypt’s interim military rulers cracked down on rallies calling for its departure.

But the resignation of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, seemed a distant dream after a week of successful elections that concluded Friday with the partial unveiling of a cabinet by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, appointed after his predecessor resigned in protest at continued military rule. Of 32 cabinet positions, 13 appointments were announced, all but one of them people retaining their old posts.

In Tahrir Square, there was none of the uproar of last week, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered amid clouds of tear gas and volleys of bullets, both rubber-coated and live, according to Health Ministry reports.

In the encampment in the center, a few dozen protesters, many with broken limbs and eye injuries sustained in the violence last week, said they had boycotted the elections and would stay until the end of the military rule they see as an extension of the government of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February after an 18-day uprising.

But the police officers and soldiers were gone, and although people chanted “Military rule is shameful” and other anti-council slogans, their numbers were much diminished.

“I think the high level of participation in the elections this week sent a message to the people in Tahrir that the majority would like a return to stability, and that they accept more or less the timetable set by SCAF for a return to civilian rule,” said Mustafa Kamel el-Sayed, professor of political science at Cairo University.

A transition plan announced by the military would see it giving up power by April next year.

Sayed also noted a sense of frustration that the political groups that started the revolution did not do well. “That dampened the atmosphere in Tahrir,” he said.

Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group said that many people in the square were clinging to the euphoria of the February uprising rather than negotiating the difficult process of transition. “These people are not engaging with politics because politics are disappointing and petty, and this is why it was so easy for the military to ignore them,” he said.

In the nearby Abbasiya area Friday, a rally was held by supporters of the military who say they represent the so-called silent majority. They, too, were fewer in number than last week, but their tone was triumphant as they insisted that the council is needed to maintain stability.

“I love the people here in Abbasiya and in Tahrir,” said Abdelhamid Mehdi, a 23-year-old preacher. “But in Tahrir, they want to completely purify everything now. . . . This is a critical time for Egypt. She is in the intensive-care unit, and they want to tell her to leave, take away her oxygen and get up before she is healed.”

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