REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Egyptians voted Tuesday in the third round of parliamentary elections that so far suggest Islamist parties will become the dominant political voices as the country moves from a year of rebellion toward a new democracy.
More than 14 million voters were eligible to cast ballots for 150 seats in nine governorates. The voting marked the final round in elections for the lower house of parliament. Results are expected to be announced next week. Elections for the less powerful upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council, will begin Jan. 29.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group under deposed President Hosni Mubarak, is leading the race with more than 40% of the vote in the first two rounds. The main rival to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is the ultraconservative Al Nour party, which has won at least 20% of the vote.
The third round is expected to solidify an Islamist victory, marking a stunning reversal of political fortune for the Brotherhood, which for decades was persecuted by Mubarak’s police state. Secular and liberal candidates, including youth leaders who helped ignite the revolt a year ago, have been set back by organizational woes and other problems.
The question is whether the Brotherhood will win an outright majority of parliament seats. If it does not, it will have to form a coalition with either Al Nour or a secular bloc. The Brotherhood, which has stressed political unity, is concerned that Al Nour’s rigid religious agenda would not focus enough on Egypt’s deeper economic and social problems.
Long lines stretched outside voting stations including in the Nile Delta city of El Mahalla El Kubra, where for years textile and mill workers staged strikes and protested Mubarak’s rule. The voting occurred the same day prosecutors made arguments against the toppled 83-year-old leader, who is on trial on charges of corruption and complicity in the murder of more than 800 protesters.
Mubarak was a “tyrannical leader who sought to hand power to his younger son Gamal, who spread corruption in the country and opened the door to his friends and relatives, ruining the country without any accountability," said prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman.
There were indications in some provinces, especially in tribal areas, that former member of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party might win a number of seats. The party has been disbanded and disgraced but its onetime members have benefited from clan and family allegiances that heavily influence voting preferences.
The third round of elections followed a crackdown on protesters by the military-led government that left at least 15 people dead in Cairo. The ruling generals have been unable to stem months of demonstrations against the country’s slow transition to democracy. Many Egyptians fear the new 498-seat lower house of parliament will lack power and be accountable to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
A showdown between the military and the Brotherhood is expected over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution and the future of the army-appointed interim Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri and his Cabinet. The army has said it will step aside, but not until a new president is elected in June.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman
Photo: Supporters of the Egyptian Social Democratic party attend a demonstration Monday in Cairo calling for human rights. The banners say “no to Mubarak’s oppressive regime, Egyptians must wait for their freedom, the people still want justice.” Credit: Mohammed Abu Zaid / Associated Press