Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Wednesday it won most seats in a first-round parliamentary vote, with early tallies suggesting liberals had backed some of its candidates to block hardline Salafis.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which has promised to work with a broad coalition in the new assembly, secured 34 individual seats out of the 45 it contested in the run-offs on Monday and Tuesday, a party source told Reuters.
The Islamist group, which was banned under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, had already won 37 percent of the vote in an initial phase of the multi-pronged election, meaning it is well on course to have the largest bloc of seats in the new assembly.
Its success confirms a trend set by Islamist election wins in post-uprising Tunisia and in Morocco, disappointing many of the democracy activists who led protests that toppled Mubarak.
But the real surprise in the opening ballot was the success of the ultra-conservative Salafi al-Nour party, which secured 24 percent of the vote and went head-to-head with the Brotherhood in 24 of the run-offs.
Official results are not due until Thursday, but leaked tallies suggested secular moderates might have rallied behind the Brotherhood to thwart the Salafis.
Sayyeda Ibrahim, 52, a cook from Cairo, said she voted for a Salafi candidate in last week’s first round but regretted her choice later when she saw him debate with a liberal candidate.
“That bearded fellow is too radical,” she said.
Among the Salafis who lost out was Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, a prominent spokesman for the movement in its base in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, who was defeated by a Brotherhood-backed rival, local media reported.
Shahat caused uproar among liberal Egyptians for suggesting democracy was “haram” (forbidden) and the country’s ancient Pharaonic statues which draw millions of tourists to the country should be covered up or destroyed as they are idolatrous.
The strong showing by Islamists has unnerved Israel, which called on Egypt this week to preserve their 1979 peace treaty, and also the United States which has backed the peace deal with billions of dollars in military aid for both countries.
The Brotherhood and Salafi al-Nour party share much of the same rhetoric, focused on applying Islamic sharia law as the solution to Egypt’s problems.
But the Brotherhood has emphasized the political reform agenda it shares with a broad range of groups that took part in the uprising at the start of the year and is sounding more open to compromise with liberal forces in parliament.
Some 56 individual seats were up for grabs in the first round of the election, with others assigned to party lists that will eventually account for two thirds of all seats on offer. Two more rounds follow, with the last run-off in mid-January.
Divisions between Islamist rivals has given liberals hope that they might take part in a post-election government and help shape the future constitution.
Parliament’s popular mandate will make it difficult for the military council to ignore, but the army will keep hold of the levers of power until a presidential election in June, after which it has said it would hand over power to civilians.
The army announced on Tuesday it would give more decision-making powers to its new prime minister, Kamal al-Ganzouri, in an apparent attempt to deflect criticism that it is seeking to control the political transition.
Ganzouri, tasked with forming a “government of national salvation” after violent street protests last month, announced a new cabinet with many incumbents keeping their portfolios.
A state-owned newspaper said on Wednesday that Ganzouri had nominated General Mohamed Ibrahim, a former regional security official, to the sensitive role of interior minister, tasked with reforming the police.
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Tamim Elyan and Patrick Werr; Editing by Crispian Balmer