CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will hear the results of elections which Islamist parties expect to win on Friday and protesters rallied in Cairo to remember 42 people killed in clashes with police last month.
“Without Tahrir, we wouldn’t have had these elections,” said Mohamed Gad, in the Cairo square that was the hub of the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. “God willing, the elections will succeed and the revolution will triumph.”
But many of the young people who took to the streets early this year now fear their revolution risks being stolen, either by the army rulers or by well-organised Islamist parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood, banned but semi-tolerated under Mubarak, says its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) expects to win 43 percent of party list votes in the first stage of a complex and lengthy election process that lasts into January.
Many had forecast that the Brotherhood would convert its decades of grassroots social and religious work, as well as its opposition to Mubarak, into a solid electoral showing.
But the Brotherhood’s website also forecast that the Salafi al-Nour party would gain 30 percent of the vote, a shock for some Egyptians, especially minority Christian Copts, who fear it will try to impose strict Islamic codes on society.
Nour said on Thursday it expected 20 percent of the vote.
As in Saudi Arabia, Salafis would want to bar women and Christians from executive posts. They would also ban alcohol, “un-Islamic” art and literature, as well as mixed beach bathing.
If implemented, such curbs would wreck Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which employs about one in eight of the workforce.
More secular-minded Egyptian parties, some of which were only formed after Mubarak’s fall, had always feared that they would not have enough time to put up a credible challenge to their experienced and better-funded Islamist rivals.
The liberal multi-party Egyptian Bloc has said it is on track to secure about a fifth of votes for party lists. The youthful activists who launched into politics after the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11 made little impact in the polls.
The first-stage poll results were due to be announced at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) after successive delays, state television said.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said staff of his Carter Center, which monitors polls around the world, had reported “enthusiastic participation ... and a largely peaceful process, for which the Egyptian people should be proud.
“However, the process is far from complete, and there are several areas for improvement before the next two rounds of voting. We hope that steps can be taken to help ensure the integrity and transparency of these elections,” he added.
The world is watching the first post-Mubarak election for pointers to change in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation and one hitherto seen as a firm U.S. ally committed to preserving its peace treaty with Israel and fighting Islamist militancy.
The United States, which still gives Egypt about $1.3 billion a year in mostly military aid, has urged the ruling generals to step aside swiftly and make way for civilian rule.
Islamist electoral success in Egypt would underline a trend in North Africa, where moderate Islamists have topped polls in Morocco and post-uprising Tunisia in the last two months.
Egypt’s ruling generals, who have promised civilian rule by July, have said they will keep powers to appoint or fire a cabinet, even after an elected parliament is installed.
The Brotherhood’s FJP seemed to back away from a statement from its leader that the majority in parliament should form a government, saying discussion of the issue was premature.
The FJP says its priorities are ending corruption, reviving the economy and establishing a true democracy in Egypt.
It may not necessarily ally with its Salafi rivals in parliament, perhaps preferring more moderate coalition partners to help reassure Egyptians and foreigners of its pragmatism.
Senior FJP official Essam el-Erian said before the vote that
Salafis, who had kept a low profile and shunned politics during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, would be “a burden for any coalition”.
After Friday prayers, a few thousand demonstrators rallied in Tahrir Square, the hub of the anti-Mubarak revolt, to honour the 42 “martyrs” and push demands that the army step down now.
“I came to thank the youth for what they have done for the country. We have to bow to them,” said Zeinab al-Ghateet, a woman in her 50s wearing an Egyptian flag around her neck.
Kamal al-Ganzouri, asked by the army to form a “national salvation government”, aims to complete the task soon.
Protesters in Tahrir have rejected Ganzouri, 78, saying the army must give up power and let civilians take over now.
“It is unacceptable that after the revolution, an old man comes and governs. We don’t want the army council anymore. they should go back to barracks,” said Menatallah Abdel Meguid, 24.
Crowds chanted: “Run us over with your tanks. Oh country, revolt, revolt, we don’t want (Field Marshal) Tantawi or Ganzouri.”