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Egypt Islamists expect gains in post-Mubarak poll
The army generals who took over from President Hosni Mubarak have yet to step aside.
Cairo: 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 February 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 per cent 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 meagre 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.
Salafis admit shortcomings
The leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist al-Nour Party, which hopes to siphon votes from the Brotherhood, said organisational 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.
The election is taking place in three regional stages, plus run-off votes, in a complex system that requires voters to choose individual candidates as well as party lists. Full results will be announced after voting ends on January 11.
Whatever the outcome, nine months of turmoil have plunged Egypt into economic crisis as growth slows, investment and tourism shrink, and foreign reserves dwindle, limiting any government's ability to satisfy soaring popular expectations.
Mohamed Radwan, equities head at Pharos Securities, said his biggest fear was the government's liquidity crunch, adding that devaluation looked imminent "unless the new cabinet to be formed does something drastic and miraculous in a very short time".
Last week Egypt's pound hit its lowest since January 2005. Foreign reserves have sunk by a third to $22 billion this year.
Election monitors have reported logistical hiccups and campaign violations but no serious violence.
Armed with laptops and leaflets, party workers of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing and its Islamist rivals have approached muddled voters to guide them through the balloting system and nudge them toward their candidates.
In the Nile Delta town of Kafr el-Sheikh, Muslim Brotherhood workers were selling cut-price food in a tent where they also distributed flyers naming the FJP candidates in the area.
Some Egyptians respect the Brotherhood for its decades of social welfare work, its opposition to Mubarak and its image of piety and honesty in a country riddled with corruption.
Others worry that resurgent Islamist parties may dominate political life, mould Egypt's next constitution and threaten social freedoms in what is already a deeply conservative nation of 80 million people whose 10 percent Coptic Christian minority complains of discrimination from the Muslim majority.
Copts, like Muslims, were voting in greater numbers than in the Mubarak era. "Before, the results were known in advance, but now we have to choose our fate," said Wagdy Youssef, a 45-year-old company manager in Alexandria.
As voting took place in the chilly, rain-swept coastal town of Damietta, Sayed Ibrahim, 30, said he backed the liberal Wafd Party over its main local rival, the Salafi Nour Party.
"I'm voting for Wafd because I don't want an ultra-religious party that excludes other views," he said, in jeans and a cap.
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