Scuffles flare in Cairo square amid elections

Egyptians line up in second day of mostly peaceful elections; Muslim Brotherhood expect gains but outcome hard to predict.

Protesters during a march in Tahrir Square in Cairo 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Protesters during a march in Tahrir Square in Cairo 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
CAIRO - Unidentified men wielding sticks surged on Tuesday through Cairo's Tahrir Square which has been occupied by protesters demanding an end to army rule, a Reuters witness said.
The website of the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm daily said there were scuffles after some people tried to expel street vendors, who have been serving protesters camped out in Tahrir for more than 10 days.
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Egyptians voted on Tuesday in a parliamentary election that Islamists hope will sweep them closer to power, even though the army generals who took over from President Hosni Mubarak have yet to step aside.
The election, the first since a revolt ousted Mubarak on Feb. 11, unfolded without the mayhem many had feared after last week's riots against army rule in which 42 people were killed.
General Ismail Atman, a ruling army council member, said he had no firm figure, but that turnout would exceed 70 percent of the 17 million Egyptians eligible to vote in the first round that began on Monday. "I hope it will reach more than 80 percent by the end of the day," he told Al Jazeera television.
Atman was also quoted by Al-Shorouk newspaper as saying the election showed the irrelevance of protesters demanding an end to military rule in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
Les Campbell, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, one of many groups monitoring the poll, said earlier it was "a fair guess" that turnout would exceed 50 percent, far above the meager showings in rigged Mubarak-era elections.
The United States and its European allies are watching Egypt's vote torn between hopes that democracy will take root in the most populous Arab nation and worries that Islamists hostile to Israel and the West will ride to power on the ballot box.
They have faulted the generals for using excessive force on protesters and urged them to give way swiftly to civilian rule.
A senior figure in the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood said its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had done well in the voting so far. "The Brotherhood party hopes to win 30 percent of parliament," Mohamed El-Beltagy told Reuters.
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The leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist al-Nour Party, which hopes to siphon votes from the Brotherhood, said organizational failings meant his party had under-performed.
"We were not dispersed across constituencies, nor were we as close as needed to the voter. Other parties with more experience rallied supporters more effectively," Emad Abdel Ghafour said in the coastal city of Alexandria, seen as a Salafi stronghold.
But he told Reuters the party still expected to win up to half of Alexandria's 24 seats in parliament and 70 to 75 nationwide out of the assembly's 498 elected seats.
Soldiers guarded one banner-festooned Cairo voting station, where women in Islamic headscarves or Western clothes queued with their families. Judges kept an amiable eye on proceedings.
Islamists did not instigate the Arab uprisings that have shaken Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, but in the last two months, Islamist parties have come out top in parliamentary elections in Morocco and post-revolutionary Tunisia.
Egyptian Islamists want to emulate those triumphs. The new assembly, flush with a legitimacy the generals lack, may assert itself after rubber-stamping Mubarak's decisions for 30 years.
"Real politics will be in the hands of the parliament," said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian political analyst.
One general has said parliament will have no power to remove an army-appointed cabinet due to run Egypt's daily affairs until a promised presidential poll heralds civilian rule by July.
Many Egyptians applaud the army's role in easing Mubarak from office in February, but some have grown angry at what they see as its attempts to retain military perks and power.