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Islamists win nearly three-quarters of seats in Egypt elections

January 21, 2012 | 12:09 pm

Egypt (2)

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- A new political era began in Egypt on Saturday as Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliamentary elections to inherit a nation mired in economic crisis and desperate to move beyond military rule and the corrupt legacy of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s dominate political and religious force, won 47% of the 498 seats in the lower house of parliament, according to official final results. The ultraconservative Salafi Islamist party Al Nour won nearly 25%, followed by the secular parties New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc, with about 9% each.

The results confirm the dramatic transformation of the Brotherhood, which for decades was banned from politics and endured the mass arrests and torture of its members. The victory by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is a potent sign that political Islam is emerging from a year of uprisings to replace secular autocrats across the Middle East and North Africa.

A new parliament “would not have seen the light if it wasn't for the pure blood of the martyrs who triggered this revolution,” Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement. “The party believes that Egypt's renaissance and development demands participation of all sects of this nation to fulfill this great responsibility.”

The elections were a sobering lesson for young activists whose nascent parties were no match for the grassroots networks and entwined religious and political message of the Islamists. The liberal activists helped ignite the revolution that brought down Mubarak but, winning only seven seats, they have been surpassed by more formidable political powers.

The Brotherhood’s euphoria will quickly confront the nation’s troubles. The new Parliament –- expected to hold its first session Monday –- faces enormous problems: unemployment, inflation, shrinking foreign investment, labor strikes, declining tourism and foreign currency reserves that have tumbled from $36 billion to about $10 billion.

The relatively moderate Brotherhood and the puritanical Salafis will likely battle over how deeply Islam should shape the constitution and be ingrained in public life. Both parties have said social and economic challenges are the most pressing concerns, but the Salafis, who receive funding from Persian Gulf nations, are certain to push for an Egypt more rooted in sharia, or Islamic law.

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-- Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan

Photo: A woman holds a placard that reads, in Arabic, "If it wasn't for the revolution, the National Democratic Party would still be there," during a protest in  Cairo on Friday, nearly a year after the beginning of the uprising that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his party. Credit: Maya Alleruzzo / Associated Press

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