Published: 10:00 GMT Standard Time - Wednesday 07 December 2011
Egyptian elections: Islamist parties on track to win majority
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt
Early results of the first stage of the Egyptian parliamentary elections indicate a decisive victory for Islamist parties, leaving the country’s Christians fearful of what the future holds for them.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) appeared to emerge with the largest share of the vote – around 40 per cent with its coalition partners – while another bloc headed by the more hard line Salafist party al-Nur looked set to take as much as 25 per cent. The newly-formed, secular liberal parties were unable to compete with the Islamists, who were already well established and organised.
Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egyptian-born researcher at the Century Foundation in Cairo, said:
It means that, if the Brotherhood chooses, Parliament can be an Islamists’ affair – a debate between liberal Islamists, moderate Islamists and conservative Islamists, and that is it.
While the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis tried but failed to form an electoral alliance, they did campaign together in some areas and chose not to contest certain seats so as not to split the Islamist vote. Such cooperation indicates their willingness to join forces where necessary, and it is possible that they will do so in parliament in order to achieve a majority.
The voting system for the new Egyptian lower house of parliament is highly complex, and these results are only preliminary indications. This was the first of three phases of voting, each taking place in nine provinces. Two further polls will take place, one later this month and the other in January.
Islamists are expected to fare even better in the next two rounds when the voting moves to the more conservative, rural areas.
Islamic state fears
Most Christians, who comprise around ten per cent of the population, voted for the liberal Egyptian bloc. Christians and secularists are fearful that the Islamists will join forces and turn Egypt into an Islamic state, severely restricting the rights and freedoms of religious minorities and women.
The FJP has been promoting itself as a moderate Islamic group that is committed to democracy, religious freedom and the application of sharia in a consensual manner.
But al-Nur is much more explicit about its intentions to impose a strict interpretation of Islam, similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia. The party has talked openly about legislating on matters including Islamic banking, restricting the sale of alcohol, and censoring the content of the arts and entertainment. Their leaders have proposed that a special council of religious scholars advise parliament and the judiciary on legislation’s compliance with Islamic law.
Sheik Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, a leader in the Salafi coalition, said:
I want to say: citizenship restricted by Islamic sharia, freedom restricted by Islamic sharia, equality restricted by Islamic sharia. Sharia is obligatory, not just the principles – freedom and justice and all that.
There are concerns that apostasy and blasphemy codes will be introduced; these issues have proven highly problematic and dangerous for Christians and other non-Muslims elsewhere. Around 100,000 Christian families have left Egypt since the revolution, as a result of increased violence against them and the prospect of Islamist ascendancy; it is likely that many more would be driven away if the latter becomes a reality.
An Islamist Egypt would also have wider implications for the region as a whole. As the largest and one of the most influential Arab states, it has been considered a linchpin of stability amid the volatile political and religious tensions of the Middle East. It is feared that an Islamist regime might revoke Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, which could have catastrophic consequences for the region. And as neighbouring Tunisia and Libya establish more Islamic regimes, a similar shift in Egypt, which has been one of the most secular states in the region, would signify a new political order in the Arab world. This could result in potentially disastrous fall-out for the Christian minority.
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