Islamist parties, as expected, secured Saturday a majority of seats in the lower house of Egypt’s first post-revolution parliament, setting the stage for intensive political dealmaking before the legislature meets at the end of the month.
According to party projections, Islamists won about 62 percent of the popular vote in the final round of the multiphased elections, although the final result will not be known until after runoffs for individual seats are held this week.
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, is now clearly the most powerful political force in the first elected body since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February, with no one party winning an outright majority.
Freedom and Justice said in a statement on its Web site that it appears to have won 41 percent of the seats in the lower house, followed by 21 percent for the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party. Whatever alliance the relatively moderate Islamist party cobbles together is likely to control both the legislature’s agenda and the makeup of a body that will write the country’s constitution, analysts say.
The lower house, known as the People’s Assembly, is the most important body in Egypt’s bicameral system. It includes 498 seats chosen by voters and an additional 10 to be chosen by the country’s interim military rulers in their capacity as Egypt’s de facto presidential authority.
Looking for allies
Observers are watching to see whether the Brotherhood’s party will turn right to ally with the Nour Party or left to make common cause with centrists, liberals and leftists. “I’m trying to grab the Muslim Brotherhood into a coalition with liberal members and not have them be forced into an alliance with the Salafis,” said Shadi Taha, who ran and lost in the election as a member of the liberal Ghad Party, which is already allied with Freedom and Justice.
For now, the Brotherhood’s party has made it clear that it has no plans to ally with the Nour Party, which follows a rigid form of Islam. Members have proposed mandating head scarves for women, and one called for segregated work places. Nader Bakar, a party spokesman, has said it will also seek a ban on alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam but is important to Egypt’s tourist industry.
But if it fails to garner the support of liberals in the parliament, the Freedom and Justice Party may be forced to ally with Nour. “If liberals turn their back on them, the Salafis will be the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan B,” Taha said.
With almost all results out, members of the Freedom and Justice Party and liberals who joined its coalition are expected to begin setting their agendas. “When the complete picture of the parliament is clear, discussions will start with other players and everything will depend on their willingness to join,” said Amr Darrag, secretary general of the Giza branch.of the Freedom and Justice Party in Cairo. “I don’t think we will have clear collaboration between us and the Nour Party as a coalition. I think that they’ll be in the opposition.”
While 15 to 16 parties will be represented in the next parliament, analysts say they expect only about 1.5 percent of seats will be held by women. A quota for women was struck from the new election law and replaced with a rule that at least one woman be included on each party list.