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In Egypt, evening voter surge keeps polls open late

The second round of parliamentary elections is expected to consolidate Islamist parties' gains from the first round last month. The voting will continue Thursday.

December 15, 2011|By Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times
  • Egyptian men line up to vote in Giza during the second round of parliamentary elections.
Egyptian men line up to vote in Giza during the second round of parliamentary… (Mohammed Hossam, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Giza, Egypt — Egyptians poured back to polling stations Wednesday to take part in a second round of voting that is expected to boost Islamist parties' control over the soon-to-be-formed parliament.

Many of the nine governorates involved in round two included rural and conservative areas where Islamist parties have long enjoyed strong support.

Though no preliminary results were announced late Wednesday, many predicted that Islamist parties would consolidate their gains from the first round. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party led balloting last month with more than 40% of the vote, and the harder-line Salafi party Al Nour garnered 21%.

The final round of parliamentary voting is scheduled for January, and a presidential poll is to be held in midyear. They are the first elections conducted since the February toppling of President Hosni Mubarak.

"Salafis are religious people who fear God and are never corrupt," said Soad Fathi, a 54-year-old street vendor, who was voting in the Giza governorate. "Corruption was the main flaw during Mubarak's era, and we should put an end to it by voting for those who will fear God while ruling us."

Islamists' strong gains have raised concern about whether they will seek to impose new religious laws, such as limiting beach tourism or restricting the role of women in Egyptian society.

Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of the country's population, have also expressed unease, particularly as tension and violence between Copts and Muslims increase.

In the Imbaba district of Giza, where a large community of Islamists lives next to thousands of Coptic Christians, a church was burned during a May clash that left 12 people dead and hundreds injured. Another church was set ablaze in March in Helwan, south of Cairo.

"Some Salafis are already talking about implementing Islamic sharia law even on Copts," said Sanaa Youssef, 33, a Copt who said she voted for the secular Egyptian Bloc, which won 9% of the vote in the first round. "We've been living here in Imbaba for hundreds of years, but we don't know how we might survive under a strict religious rule that could degrade Christians."

This week, members of both Freedom and Justice and Al Nour separately tried to allay fear by promising that foreign tourism will remain a pillar of the Egyptian economy if Islamists win a parliamentary majority.

However, some leaders vowed to develop what they called "sin-free" tourism, where alcohol wouldn't be sold and female tourists wearing bikinis would be restricted to segregated beaches.

Copts like Youssef remain skeptical. "If foreign tourists won't be allowed to do whatever they like, then they won't come for holidays. If Islamists are ready to ruin their own country's economy in the name of religion, then I'm not sure what they will do to us."

The first round of voting saw a record 60% turnout. On Wednesday, turnout appeared lower at first, but then an evening surge prompted election officials to keep polling stations open until 9 p.m. to handle the crowds. Second-round voting concludes Thursday.

The head of the election committee, Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, said some irregularities were reported, including last-minute political campaigning by some parties outside polling stations. Candidates are banned by election laws from campaigning 48 hours before the vote.

"Those candidates campaigning on election day are outlaws and should be immediately reported" to the election commission, Ibrahim said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Some Islamist supporters defended what they called "guiding" voters and insisted that they were not violating election laws.

"Sometimes we see people who don't know whom to vote for," Salafi supporter and English-language teacher Sherif Deeb said outside a polling station in Imbaba. "We offer them the choice of Al Nour party, and in the end it's up to them to vote for whomever they like."

Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau. Times staff writer Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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