Early counting in Egypt's parliamentary elections appears to confirm the region-wide trend of Islamists — moderate, hard-line and some who are yet to be fully tested — emerging as the most potent force in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Following the first phase of elections which ended on Tuesday, counting in Luxor, Cairo and elsewhere is showing that the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has solidly outpaced its rivals in many of the constituencies.
The ultra-conservative Al Nour party is also doing well in some districts. It is either leading over the other contenders or is in second place to the FJP.
Except in a few constituencies, non-religious parties are, so far, heavily trailing the Islamists, who are not contesting as a unified bloc. The FJP and Al Nour are not pre-poll allies, though the latter is open to participation in a coalition. The Al Nour comprises mainly Salafists, who seek to recreate a society based on pristine Islam.
The electoral picture, however hazy, that is emerging in Egypt, seems to amplify a political trend fast gathering momentum in West Asia and North Africa. Moderate Islamists have emerged as the most prominent political force in Tunisia and Morocco following recent elections. An Islamist assertion is also visible in Libya in the aftermath of the killing in October of Muammar Qadhafi. Some analysts say an Islamist political resurgence through the ballot can be traced to 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the architect of the so-called “Turkish model” of new-age Islam, triumphed in Turkey.
Despite the AKP's Islamist roots, Turkey remains secular and has deeply engaged with moderate Islamists in Tunisia and sections of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
In Luxor — famed for its Pharonic-era architecture — where nearly 80 per cent of the counting has been completed, the FJP appears to be in the lead, closely followed by the Al Nour Party, the website of the Al Masry Al Youm daily reported. A somewhat similar trend prevails in Helwan where the FJP is followed by a triangular contest among the Al-Nour, the Egyptian Bloc and the Conservative Party for the second place. In Cairo's eighth constituency, the Al Nour and the FJP are vying for the top position.
However, the Islamists seem to have been challenged in Port Said, where a Leftist candidate has triumphed over an Al Nour candidate. Apart for voting along party lines, Egyptian voters have, on a separate ballot paper, balloted for candidates who represented specific social classes.
With Egyptians voting in droves, especially on Tuesday, and now awaiting results, Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the Egyptian revolt and recent scene of heavy clashes, has acquired an unusually subdued appearance. On Tuesday, there were heavy clashes between protesters and street vendors, which injured 108 people. Protesters said the regime had deployed armed provocateurs to wipe out the uprising in the fog of the elections.
On Twitter, elder statesman Mohamed ElBaradei wrote: “Thugs are now attacking the protesters in Tahrir. A regime that cannot protect its citizens has failed to carry out its main job.”