CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Wednesday it had won most seats in run-off votes at the expense of hardline Islamists in a parliamentary election that has put pressure on the ruling army.
Unofficial results suggested liberal voters might have swung behind the Brotherhood, which was banned under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, to prevent the ultra-conservative Salafis from building on a strong initial showing in the multi-tiered ballot.
The prospect of uncompromising Islamists taking charge in the Arab world’s largest state has caused concern in its major Western ally, the United States, and in Israel which is anxious to maintain its historic peace deal with Egypt.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri was finally sworn in on Wednesday in front of the head of the ruling army council. The army had handed certain presidential functions to Ganzouri in an attempt to ease criticism that it is seeking to dominate the gradual transition to civilian rule.
Ganzouri, a former premier under Mubarak, pledged to improve security and the economy after nine months of army rule affected by social unrest, sectarian violence and a financial crisis.
The make-up of the new parliament will not be known until the election concludes in January. But it already looks clear that the Brotherhood will be the biggest single force, putting it on a potential collision course with Ganzouri and the army.
The Brotherhood has emphasised a 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.
The military has said it will remain the ultimatum authority in Egypt until a new president is elected in June.
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.
Official results are due in the coming hours.
The FJP had won 37 percent of the vote in an initial phase of balloting and its success confirms a trend set by Islamist election wins in post-uprising Tunisia and in Morocco.
The real surprise in the opening ballot was the success of the Salafi al-Nour party, which secured 24 percent of the vote and went head to head with the FJP in 24 of the run-offs, which were marked by a sharp fall in turnout.
A number of those who did turn out at polling stations made clear they wanted to blunt the Salafi charge.
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.
The Salafis won just two out of eight run-offs in their northern stronghold of Alexandria, according to initial counts.
Among those who lost out was Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, a prominent spokesman for the movement who was defeated by a Brotherhood-backed rival.
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 liberal Egyptian Bloc, which came third in voting last week, said it would support a protest planned near the Pyramids of Giza by tourism workers scared for their livelihoods.
“More people were mobilized against the Salafis when they saw everything was getting gloomy and the media were saying they are going to drive us towards catastrophe,” said Amr Hashem, political analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
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.
Divisions between the rival Islamists has left liberally minded Egyptians hoping they might have more influence over a post-election government and the shape of a future constitution.
That optimism was boosted by victories for some high-profile liberal candidates this week.
“I feel like people are starting to worry after the results of the first round, even the poor voters,” said Menna Adel, 24, who worked at the Arab League headquarters based in Cairo.
“I think they realised that voting for the Salafis was a mistake and they didn’t want to repeat it.”