Egypt: Between Sharia law and anarchy

Egyptian officials say voter turnout for the opening round of parliamentary elections has been the highest-ever in the country "since the pharaohs". Exit polls suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood have secured some 40-45 per cent of the votes.

Voter turnout was 62 per cent as announced by the head of the election committee. The announcement follows a two-day delay in publishing the outcome and the result still failed to paint a full picture, with the vast majority of candidates now set to contest a run-off.

Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim did not announce the full results but welcomed the turnout as “the highest since the time of pharaohs.” More than 8 million voters of some 14 million have cast their ballots in the first round of parliamentary elections.

Earlier on Friday there was a symbolic demonstration when people marched through the square carrying coffins to remember the 43 people who were killed during previous violent protests. Although people are as angry as ever at the military government, the protest’s momentum is starting to fade, as RT’s Paula Slier reports from Tahrir.

The result of this week’s voting was to be announced on Wednesday, but the Central Election Commission delayed it twice. First it said the ballots of Egyptians living abroad had arrived late. Then it maintained it had failed to count all the ballots on time due to an unexpectedly high voter turnout, which is estimated at 70 per cent. The commission warned that the official announcement may be delayed further to Saturday.

However preliminary results expectedly point to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies as the winners of the election, with some the brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party claiming 40-45 per cent of the votes.

Salafi party Al-Nur gathered the second-largest support base in the first round of the election. An estimated 30 to 35 per cent of ballots have been cast in their favor. It is the first time Salafist were registered as a political party

This is certain to create a bad mood among Egyptian secularists. The Muslim Brotherhood is moderately Islamic, and the Salafi have even stricter views on religion. There were fears that the two would form an alliance and turn Egypt into a theocracy, but so far the two political movements have been keeping their distance.

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak expressed concerns over the initial results from Egypt’s elections describing them as “very, very disturbing.”

Barak stressed on Saturday that he hoped Egypt’s new parliament would respect international treaties, including its shaky 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Israel’s fears are fueled by the Muslim Brotherhood’s cool stance towards the treaty and its close ties with the Hamas militant group.

It is the first election held since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in February. It is being conducted in three stages. This week, polling was undertaken in nine out of 27 provinces, including Cairo and Alexandria. Future voting will be in rural areas, where Islamists traditionally have stronger support than in the cities, and is bound to increase positions of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.

Meanwhile, protests are continuing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where demonstrators demand that the Supreme Military Council steps down. The protesters believe that the general election will not bring any substantial change as long as the generals, who served Mubarak’s regime, remain in power.

Over the past few weeks there were violent clashes between the demonstrators and security officers. Forty-three people have been killed and a thousand injured in the latest high-profile instances of the ongoing violence. Protesters accuse police of using live ammunition, an internationally-banned kind of tear gas, as well as tactics of brutal intimidation.