Islamists in Egypt have moved to dampen fears that they plan to monopolise political power after initial results in the first stage of parliamentary elections placed them within sight of a possible majority.
The Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood group, polled the highest number of votes in almost all nine provinces where elections were held. The runner-up in most constituencies has been Nour, an ultraconservative Salafi party, formed only a few months ago and promoting a puritan vision of Islam that focuses mainly on personal morality.
Saad al-Katatny, a senior official of the FJP, told the Financial Times his party was adamant the next government should bring together all political groupings in Egyptian society and not just Islamist factions.
“It should take account of Islamists, liberals and leftists in order to guarantee stability,” he said. “Even if the FJP secures a majority, it will not form a government by itself or with another Islamist party. It has to include all existing currents, even ones that are not in parliament.”
Reem Saad, the director of the Middle East Center at the American University in Cairo, said the FJP was well aware that given Egypt’s daunting social and economic problem, any new government was bound to disappoint.
“It does not want to have to shoulder that responsibility on its own,” she said. “Whoever has primacy in parliament will be faced by huge pressures. The Egyptian people are now in a demanding mood and they could be out demonstrating within two weeks of the election to ask for improvements in their lives.”
Some Nour and FJP members had suggested on television that the two Islamist groups would form a governing coalition, but Mr Katatny denied categorically that any such plans existed.
The prospect had alarmed liberal segments of Egyptian society already in shock over the Salafi gains and worried by the larger-than-expected win of the FJP. Seeking to allay fears, an FJP statement said on Thursday it expected the election to produce “balanced parliament, reflecting all segments of the Egyptian people.”
The final allocation of seats in the assembly will not be known until the end of the three stage election, but if the FJP and Nour replicate their performance in the first stage, the assembly would have an Islamist majority.
Egypt’s ruling military council is under no obligation to select a government reflecting the election results under current constitutional arrangements, but the FJP has made it clear that parliament would block legislation if it did not have a say in appointing the executive.
So far, the Egyptian bourse has taken in its stride the prospect of an Islamist-dominated assembly, rising by a slight 1 per cent on Thursday. The main EGX index has fallen by 43 per cent since the beginning of the year and analysts say most foreign buyers were gone long before the election.
In the run-up to the poll, the FJP had sought to reassure investors meeting delegations from international institutions and foreign and domestic banks. Although, it has earned praise for its free market orientation, bankers say the Egyptian economy still has a rough ride ahead.
“Having an elected parliament will help Egypt borrow from the International Monetary Fund and raise foreign capital,” said an international banker. “But in terms of economic policy, we are not out of the woods yet. The people coming in have never governed before. I am sure some of the issues they will find when they get in are not the ones they had expected. It will take time for them to get up to speed, whether they are Islamists or a coalition.”
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