CAIRO – Final results on Saturday showed that Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliament in Egypt's first elections since the ouster of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak, according to election officials and political groups.
The Islamist domination of Egypt's parliament has worried liberals and even some conservatives about the religious tone of the new legislature, which will be tasked with forming a committee to write a new constitution. Overseeing the process will be the country's Mubarak-era military generals, who are still in charge.
A coalition led by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood won 47 percent, or 235 seats in the 498-seat parliament. The ultraconservative Al-Nour Party was second with 25 percent, or 125 seats.
The Salifi Al-Nour, which was the biggest surprise of the vote, wants to impose strict Islamic law in Egypt, while the more moderate Brotherhood, the country's best-known and organized party, has said publicly that it does not seek to force its views about an appropriate Islamic lifestyle on Egyptians.
The two parties are unlikely to join forces because of ideological differences, but both have a long history of charity work in Egypt's vast poverty-stricken neighborhoods and villages, giving them a degree of legitimacy and popularity across the country in areas where newer liberal parties have yet to get a foothold.
The liberals who spearheaded the revolt that toppled Mubarak struggled to organize and connect with a broader public in the vote, and did not fair as well as the Islamists.
The Egyptian bloc, which is headed by a party founded by Christian telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it won 9 percent of the seats in parliament. Egypt's oldest secular party, the Wafd, also won around 9 percent.
Newer parties, such as the liberal Revolution Continues Party won 2 percent, as did the Islamist Center Party, which had been banned from politics under Mubarak.
The results leave the liberal groups with little ability to maneuver in parliament, unless they choose to mobilize the street in protests or work on key issues with the dominant Islamist groups, said Mohamed Abu-Hamed, the deputy leader of the liberal Free Egyptians Party.
"The most important element that led Islamists to win is their use of Islamic language in their outreach," Abu-Hamed told The Associated Press. "They pressured people's religious conscience"
Abu-Hamed vowed that the Egyptian Bloc will take to the streets and hold sit-ins inside parliament if the new legislator passes laws that discriminate against minorities or oversteps its boundaries.
The final tally, which includes at least 15 seats for former regime figures, comes as little surprise since election results had been partially announced throughout the three stages of the vote, which took place over several weeks across the country. Egypt's elections commission acknowledged that there were voting irregularities, but the election has been hailed as the country's freest and fairest vote in living memory
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned from forming a party under Mubarak but allowed to field candidates as independents, did not secure any seats under widely-rigged elections held just two months before the start of the Jan. 25 uprising that led to the former president's ouster.
The United States long shunned Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and turned a blind-eye to the arrest and torture of Salafis, who now comprise the bulk of Al-Nour Party's constituents, under Mubarak, who was a longtime U.S. ally.
However, top U.S. officials from the State Department have recently met with the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders, who have in turn assured Western officials that they respect minority rights and support democracy.
A White House statement said that President Barack Obama called Egypt's ruling military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on Friday and welcomed the historic seating of the lower house of Egypt's Parliament, which is set to convene for the first time on Monday.