Islamist parties, set to win the majority of seats in the first round of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, have shifted into top gear to negate fears that their country could evolve into a theocracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) could end up winning around 40 per cent of the votes during the two-day poll, which wrapped up on Tuesday. The Al Nour coalition formed by the more doctrinaire Salafists is running in second place behind FJP in several constituencies.

“I expect Islamists [FJP and the Al Nour coalition] to win at least 65 per cent of seats in the first round,” said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic movements and head of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. In the first round of the three-phased election, nine of 27 governorates went to the polls to elect deputies to the Lower House of Parliament.

Sources inside the Muslim Brotherhood said the FJP had done exceptionally well in Fayoum, south of the capital, and had also distinguished itself in the Cairo and Red Sea governorates. The Al Nour coalition offered stiff competition to the FJP in the governorates of Alexandria and Kafr al-Sheikh governorates, which have become Salafi strongholds.

The spectacular performance of the Islamists has jolted their secular and liberal opponents. “Egypt will get into its darkest era ever if the Brotherhood reached the Parliament and then assumed power, it will be the worst epoch ever … I think the country will suffer as long as the Brotherhood represents the majority,” author Gamal El-Gitani was quoted as saying by the Al Ahram website.

Analysts point out that the result has alarmed minorities such as the Coptic Christians, as well as leftists and secularists. Women activists, fearing the imposition of a dress code and Sharia law, are also wary of the Muslim Brothers' vibrant assertion at the polls.

But Islamists, including those belonging to the Al Nour coalition, are emphatic in dismissing these fears as groundless, which, they say, result from the complete ignorance of doctrinal evolution that Islamist parties have undergone over the past 60 years. “Some people are promoting the idea that Islamists would diminish women's rights and freedom of speech, damage the country's relationship with Israel and also prevent non-Islamic forces from being politically involved. That's among other allegations which are baseless,” said Essam Darbala of the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiyya, an Al Nour alliance partner. In an earlier statement, Essam El-Erian, Vice Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), reassured minority groups by saying all Egyptians had equal rights. While calming fears of Egypt's possible slide into theocracy, echoing, however faintly, the 1979 Islamic revolution of Iran, Mr. El-Erian, on Thursday, served notice to the military to give way to elected representatives.

In an op-ed in the Guardian, and was posted on the Muslim Brotherhood website, he said: “It is impossible for millions of Egyptians to go to the polls and vote for a Parliament without authority. So the military council must now announce the handover of legislative powers to Parliament, and the caretaker government must present any new legislation to the Parliament for approval.”

He added that the military council “must also affirm that any government that does not enjoy the confidence of Parliament will not be able to remain in office and that the formation and survival of a government will be decided by the Parliament's majority”. Buoyed by the trends, he urged youth protesting at Tahrir Square to adopt “constitutional mechanisms while maintaining calm in the constituencies and Egyptian street”.

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