Egyptians take to polls for final round of voting

Islamists look to solidify parliamentary control; analyst: Everyone believes army must return to barracks, but no one agrees how.

Egyptians vote in elections 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Egyptians vote in elections 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Egypt’s third and final round of parliamentary voting began Tuesday, with Islamists trying to dominate an assembly that will rival the clout of the ruling generals.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has faced anger over its handling of protests that left 17 people dead in Cairo last month. An economic crisis has made it harder to meet the aspirations of citizens yearning for a better life since the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.
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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) led after the first two rounds, and the strong showing by Islamist movements has sown unease among Western powers. The concluding vote to parliament’s lower house takes in regions of the rural south, which has the largest proportions of Christian voters, the Nile Delta region north of the capital Cairo and the restive Sinai desert region to the east.
But Khaled Elgindy, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said third-round results would not likely have an appreciable effect on Islamist parties’ domination of parliamentary voting.
“Whether it’s 70 or 80 percent, it’ll be a substantial majority – I think the Brotherhood may end up with a simple majority of its own,” Elgindy told The Jerusalem Post. “The focus of almost everyone outside of the SCAF is how to get the military back to the barracks. There’s a general agreement that the military needs to go, but a lot of disagreement about how that might happen.
The onus will be on the Brotherhood and the parliament to come up with a plan.”
As the election process pushes forward, Egypt’s economic woes continue to mount. A Gallup poll released Tuesday shows only half of Egyptians reporting a satisfactory standard of living on their current income, down from 77% in August. The percentage of respondents expecting a fair and honest election also dropped to 75%, from 91% in April.
On the ground Tuesday in the Delta cities of Mahalla and Mansoura, streets were dotted with the posters of parties, especially the Brotherhood and hardline Islamist al-Nour party, promising an end to corruption.
“I have chosen to vote for the Freedom and Justice Party as I like its talk and I think it has a long history and experience and I think they will help us the most,” said a smiling middle-aged woman from Mansoura.
Brotherhood banners in Mahalla carried its motto “Islam is the solution” alongside its FJP party logo, in defiance of a ban on religious slogans. In Minya in the rural south, some campaign banners carried verses from the Koran.
Flyers for al-Nour carried names of influential families who had lent their support. The party drew on the grass-roots influence of the Salafi clerics who had founded it to take second spot in the first voting rounds.
Monitors praised the first two rounds as relatively free of irregularities, while noting that many parties had defied a ban on campaigning outside polling stations in election day. But police raids on pro-democracy and rights groups last week have disrupted the work of leading Westernbacked election monitors and drawn accusations that the army was deliberately trying to weaken oversight of the vote and silence opponents.
The government said the raids were part of an investigation into illegal foreign funding of political parties and not aimed at weakening rights groups, which have been among the fiercest critics of the army’s rule.
The United States called on Egyptian authorities to halt “harassment” of the groups involved. Egypt’s government said some of the groups had no permits to operate in the country.
The US-funded International Republican Institute said it was invited by Egypt’s government to monitor the election and gave no funding to parties or civic groups. It urged the government to let staff return to their offices and obtain the official permits they had long requested and said there was no reason to stop it monitoring the vote.
Another US-backed group, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), said it was pressing ahead with monitoring even though police had not returned equipment, documents and money they seized without providing a warrant or an inventory.
“NDI hopes that the confiscated items will be returned promptly,” it said, so the group can “resume a constructive dialogue with the appropriate authorities about its work and legitimate efforts to support the democratic process in Egypt.”
Fourteen million eligible voters in nine regions were choosing who occupies 150 of the seats in parliament. The staggered lowerhouse election concludes with a run-off vote on January 10 and 11, with final results expected on January 13.