Former President Carter Praises Egypt Elections

CAIRO  -- Former President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday dismissed concerns about the success of Islamist parties in Egypt's first elections since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, because it represents the will of the Egyptian people.

Carter's Atlanta-based Carter Center has sent 40 observers to monitor Egypt's staggered parliamentary elections since voting started in late November, the freest and fairest in decades.

Under Mubarak, elections were blatantly rigged, and turnout was often tiny.

Carter said his organization was "very pleased" with the conduct of the elections so far.

"There have been some problems in general, but the will of the people has been expressed accurately," Carter told reporters at polling station in a girls school in the Cairo neighborhood of Rod al-Farag.

Some voters in a run-off election for the third round to elect the lower house of parliament stopped to snap photos of the former president with their mobile phones.

Islamist parties have taken a solid majority in the parliament. The political party of the Muslim Brotherhood has won between 40 and 50 percent of the vote, and a coalition of ultraconservative Salafi Muslim parties received another 20 percent.

Responding to a reporter's question, Carter dismissed the idea that the U.S. should be concerned about the Islamist victory.

"I don't have any problem with that, and the U.S. government doesn't have any problem with that either," he said. "We want the will of the Egyptian people to be expressed."

Carter declined to take sides in a thorny debate about who will select the 100-person body to draft a new Egyptian constitution this year. While the newly elected parliament is supposed to appoint the drafters, generals of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, which took control of the country after Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February, have indicated they want a significant role in the process, fearing the strength of the Islamists.

Carter said only that his organization would try to foster "a peaceful relationship between the SCAF and the elected officials to write a constitution that will give the Egyptian people permanent peace and permanent freedom and permanent democracy."

The visit was Carter's first public appearance since his arrival in Egypt Monday for a five-day visit, in which he will inspect polling sites and counting stations and meet Egyptian officials and political party representatives.

Journalists and curious voters mobbed Carter when he entered the school's dirt courtyard, surrounded by security guards and Egyptian military police. Dressed in a matching rugby shirt and cap, both bearing the Carter Center logo, he chatted briefly with election officials before attempting to hold a news conference that was cut short because of too much commotion among the journalists.

One reporter asked if he had seen any election violations.

"No, I didn't see anything except a pack of security people and microphones in my face," Carter said before security guards escorted him away.

His group plans to release its complete observations on the three stages of the vote on Friday.