Egyptians head to polls for 2-day election runoffs

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CAIRO: A trickle of Egyptian voters headed to the polls Monday for two days of run-offs in the country’s first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, a balloting in which Islamist parties already captured an overwhelming majority of the votes in the first round.

Turnout in the morning hours appeared to be lower than expected, and the trickle of voters at some polling stations was a sharp contrast to the massive lines during the first round a week ago, when the turnout was nearly 60 percent — the highest in Egypt’s modern history.

Architect Hala Shaker, 39, said she thought the low turnout Monday was "scary," since small voter numbers could serve the Islamists in her constituency, where run-offs were between Islamists and secular candidates.

"We don’t want people with strict ideology who will force their views," she said. "We’re Muslims but we don’t want these people telling us how to practice our religion."

The run-offs are unlikely to change the Islamists’ gains, which have dealt a huge blow to liberals behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak 10 months ago.

According to results released on Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 percent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists. The ultraconservative Salafis’ Al-Nour Party, a more hard-line Islamist group, captured 24.4 percent, while the secular Egyptian Bloc won 13.4 percent of the votes.

The Monday races have fundamentalist Islamist candidates contesting each other and also secular candidates for the remainder of the 52 seats that were up for grabs in the first round.

Waiting with hundreds of other women to cast her ballot Monday in an upper-class Cairo neighborhood, Sohair Qansouah says she is worried over the Islamists’ win because she doesn’t want Egypt to "go back 1,000 years."

"I’m Muslim and we want freedom and tolerance for all, but if they (Islamists) come to power, there will be less freedom for all, especially women," said Qansouah, 72, adding that a parliament dominated by Islamists will "mean that all the objectives of the revolution have failed."

But others expressed a different view.

"We want Muslims who fear God to rule because they are cleaner than those who came before," said Karim Nabil, a 24-year-voter who cast his ballot while holding a Brotherhood leaflet in the other hand.

There are still two more rounds of voting staggered over the coming weeks. The ballots are a confusing mix of individual races and party lists, and Sunday’s results only reflect the party list performance for less than a third of the 498-seat parliament.

Violations such as campaigning outside polling centers have been rife.

Brotherhood activists sat with laptops outside polling stations to help voters find their way, distributing leaflets with names and symbols of their candidates.

In Cairo’s overcrowded Bab El-Sheariya neighborhood, Brotherhood posters were strung overhead along the alleyway leading to polling centers. A voter-turned-activist Mohamed Radwan, 24, said he voted for the Brotherhood because it is "natural" that Egyptians vote for Islamists.

"Our belief is that the Quran and traditions of the Prophet should rule our lives," Radwan said while handing out Brotherhood campaign material. "Some people come to me and say, ‘I don’t know how to vote,’ so I help them," he said.

Asked about campaigning on election day, Radwan said Egyptians under Mubarak were not "used to elections" and he was only helping voters learn about some of the 101 Brotherhood candidates.

The strong Islamist showing worries liberal parties, and even some religious parties, who fear the two groups will work to push a religious agenda. It has also left many of the youthful activists behind the uprising that ousted Mubarak in February feeling that their revolution has been hijacked.

The new parliament will be tasked, in theory, with selecting a 100-member panel to draft the new constitution. But adding to tensions, the ruling military council that took over from Mubarak has suggested it will set criteria to the choice of 80 of those members, and said parliament will have no mandate over formation of a new government.


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