Muslim Brotherhood win just short of a majority in Egyptian parliamentary election

McClatchy reports: Islamists won a combined 70 percent of parliamentary seats in the first election after Egypt’s revolution, according to official results Saturday that cemented the victory of rival religious parties belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and the more fundamentalist Salafists.

More than 10 million Egyptians cast votes for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, handing it 47 percent of the parliament. But the lack of an outright majority means the FJP must build alliances, most likely with established liberal parties, to keep the focus on issues such as economic initiatives and the transfer of power from Egypt’s interim military rulers.

The goal, politicians involved in negotiations said, would be to isolate the upstart Salafist Nour Party, which won a surprising 25 percent of seats. It advocates the immediate application of strict Islamic law. The Salafists’ literal interpretation of Islam is anathema to the Brotherhood and liberal parties alike, not to mention alarming to Egypt’s Western allies and foreign investors.

“The fears and concerns over Islamists are legitimate, not only because they are Islamists, but more importantly because we have not tried them before,” said Khalil al Anani, a United Kingdom-based scholar of Islamist movements. “However, overestimating these fears can blow the whole transition process.”

Liberal Egyptians said fear naturally accompanies the rise of the Salafists, a group whose clerics have espoused bans on alcohol and bikinis, and tacitly support self-appointed morality squads that harass unveiled women or unmarried couples. The Nour Party has hedged its stand toward such puritanical stances, but makes no secret of its goal for the application of Sharia law.

A group of Egyptian artists – including some of the country’s top painters, novelists and playwrights – are unconvinced that the Brotherhood can rein in the Salafists, so they’ve formed a coalition to defend intellectuals from what they fear will be inevitable attacks on freedom of expression.

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