Religious run-off: Egyptian Islamism surges in poll

As Egyptians head to the polls in a run-off vote, the Muslim Brotherhood is vying for position against competing liberal and religiously-conservative parties to extend its majority. But with the latest results, is Egypt set for an Islamist takeover?

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) will most likely scoop up the most seats during Monday’s run-off parliamentary vote in Egypt’s first free elections in decades.

While the FJP won some 36.6 per cent of the vote in the first round of the elections, which was held on November 28 and 29, the political neophytes and ultra-conservative Salafi al-Nour party surprised many by coming in second with 24.4 per cent, the Associated Press reports. 

Trailing with 15 per cent of the vote was the liberal-secular Egyptian Bloc, while the nationalist liberal Al-Wafd Party managed a mere 5 per cent. 

In the first round of elections, candidates contested 56 seats across 27 governorates. However, 52 candidates failed to secure the necessary majority to secure a seat in parliament, prompting Monday’s runoff. 

Egypt’s parliamentary elections are a convoluted mix of individual races and party lists. Of the 498 parliamentary seats, 332 will be elected from the parties of coalition-lists. The remaining 166 seats are open to candidates running as individuals.    

Sunday's results only reflect a fraction of the overall seats being contested. 

However, if the first round of elections is any indication of things to come, the FJP is expected to pick up the most seats in the new parliament. Dr. Jonathan Spyer from the center for Global Research in International Affairs and a columnist for the Jerusalem Post told RT a potential Muslim Brotherhood majority should not be surprising.

“Firstly, they were the most well-organized force on the ground…no other political party could match that,” he said.

“Secondly, because we have the track record now, that when free elections are held in the Arabic-speaking world at the current time, Islamist parties tend to have an advantage, they tend to do well.” 

But with Islamists set to take control of the country’s parliament, liberals, the country’s sizeable Coptic Christian population, and its neighbors are all alarmed as the threat of Sharia law looms over Egypt. 

Their fears might be well-founded. A Pew Global Attitudes Project report released last year that found close to 80 per cent of Egyptians were in favor of strict Islamic punishments that entailed stoning for adultery, cutting off the hands of thieves, and death for abandoning their faith.

However, Spyer said Egypt’s future ultimately depends on who the FJP chooses to align with in parliament.

“If they (the FJP) chose to ally with the Salafi al-Nour Party…then I think secular Egyptians will have a lot to be concerned with, because then… we could see attempts to begin to implement Sharia law in all sorts of areas of  life. If they chose to alley with liberal forces, allowing the Salafi’s, the extreme Islamists, to become the opposition, then this process will be much slower and more nuanced.”

Outside of Egypt, anxieties are running high as well. 

Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Finance Minister, expressed Israel’s deep-seated concerns as the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to take power.  

"We are very concerned about the elections in Egypt. We hope that every person, every man in the Western world should hope with us, that Egypt will not shift to some kind of Islamic tyranny, but will preserve democratic values and, of course, the peace with Israel and in the region in general."

Spyer, however, told RT that Israel’s fears might be premature. 

“Even when the parliamentary elections are concluded, the Egyptian parliament will have no control over Egyptian foreign or security policy, so even if the Muslim Brotherhood controls the parliament…they won’t be able to impact on Foreign policy for a while yet, we’ll have to wait for the presidential elections.”

“Should an Islamist president come into power in Egypt, then I think we could be looking at a very new situation…especially from an Israeli perspective.”

The phased election, which consists of three stages, will run until January. The complex electoral process comes as Egypt makes the painful transition from military to civilian rule that has seen a series of mass, often bloody, protests since the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The transition is set to be concluded by July, as the presidential election is scheduled for June 2012.