The Muslim Brotherhood promised Egyptians voting in a run-off on Tuesday it would work in a broad coalition if its party wins parliamentary elections, saying it hoped to avoid a showdown with the ruling military council.
Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, whose party led the first phase of voting last week, played down suggestions that Islamists would try to dominate parliament when it gets to work after the staggered election is completed in January.
“We will not rule Egypt alone. Parliament will include all the colours of the rainbow that must agree on one direction, one goal,” Badie told the private Al-Mehwar station, according to a transcript of the interview.
Parliament’s popular mandate will make it difficult for the military council to ignore but the army will remain in charge until a presidential election in June, after which it has said it would hand over power to civilians.
Opponents of the Brotherhood say it will turn Egypt into an Islamic state by stealth, curbing freedoms for 80 million people who include about eight million Christian Copts.
The army, accused of guarding all the levers of power 10 months after the fall of president Hosni Mubarak, announced it would give more decision-making powers to its newly-picked prime minister.
Kamal al-Ganzouri, tasked with forming a “government of national salvation” after violent street protests last month, said the army would grant him presidential powers over everything except the judiciary and armed forces.
Badie said he did not expect the military, which has assumed the role of head of state since Mubarak’s fall, to undermine the new parliament. He also dismissed prospects for a showdown with the army after the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said the new assembly should nominate the government.
“The military council is the only president in Egypt and it makes no sense for the president to be unjust, for how can a people choose a government that the military dismisses out of hand?” he said.
Islamist versus Islamist
Hardline Salafis were the surprise runners-up in the opening stage of the vote, the biggest test of the public mood since mass protests ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
But the Islamists are not united and may not ally themselves in parliament, giving liberals scope to take part in a post-election government and shape the future constitution.
The Salafi al-Nour Party and the FJP were contesting about half the 52 seats up for grabs in Monday and Tuesday’s run-offs where no candidate won more than 50 percent in the first round.
“There were attempts to unite, but Salafis are very difficult,” said Mohamed Hussein, as he distributed leaflets for the Brotherhood’s party in the port city of Alexandria.
“It is easier for me to talk with a liberal or a socialist than a Salafi,” he added.
In both Alexandria and Cairo there were none of the long queues that accompanied the first round vote, with analysts seeing a sharp drop in interest by liberal or secularist voters.
“If it’s a fight between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, they don’t want either so they are not going to (vote),” said Adel Soliman of the International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies. “Enthusiasm in the election has now passed.”
Independent monitors called for tighter oversight of the polling, saying multiple violations had been recorded, including the rallying of party supporters outside voting stations.
On Monday, after a confusing delay of several days in releasing results, the election commission dramatically revised the turnout level from a “record” 62 percent announced last week to 52 percent
“Until now we haven’t seen a positive move to limit this phenomenon,” said Tarek Zaghloul, executive manager at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, involved in monitoring.
He also noted that parties were using banned religious slogans in their campaigning and bussing voters in.
The election committee confirmed that irregularities had forced it to cancel the count in one of Cairo’s four electoral districts. A new ballot will be held on Jan. 10 and 11 with the runoffs set for Jan. 17 and 18.
The prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises fears among activists about civil liberties, women’s rights and religious freedom in a country with the Middle East’s largest Christian minority.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the new Islamist power brokers to “embrace democratic norms and rules” and respect women’s rights and free religious practice.
“We expect all democratic actors and elected officials to uphold universal human rights,” she said in a speech to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Liberal presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei accused the Islamists of relying too heavily on slogans which he said would soon become apparent if they gained power.
“Let them govern and have their chance. People will realize that slogans are not enough,” ElBaradei said in an interview published by the independent newspaper Al-Shuruq.
ElBaradei’s main rival to be president, former Arab League head Amr Moussa, called for the Islamist parties to embrace the principles of democracy and modernity.
“We cannot talk about democracy and then object to the results. Democracy is about what the people want,” he said in Dubai. “But for those elected to power, they must understand that... they need to join this era and not disengage from it.”
ElBaradei also stepped up his criticism of the military rulers who took power after the toppling of Mubarak in February, accusing them of mishandling the process of ushering in democracy in the Arab world's most populous nation.
“We live today in a fascist system with military tribunals and emergency law, and if there is another round of the revolution it will be full of anger and violence,” he warned.
“The situation is going from bad to worse after the failure of the military council in managing the transition process,” said ElBaradei, adding that young Egyptians were “completely despondent because nothing has changed.”
The army rulers have chosen a highly complex election process to elect a new upper and lower parliament as well as a president that will end only in June next year under the current timetable.
The first of the three rounds of voting to choose the lower house of parliament has revealed various problems in a country with a long history of electoral abuse during the Mubarak era.
The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has threatened street protests if there is any attempt to manipulate results.
The new civilian powers are set to face a fierce struggle with the army, which has already indicated it wants to retain many of its privileges, including oversight of military-related legislation.