CAIRO, Egypt, AP – The banned Muslim Brotherhood won about a quarter of the parliamentary seats open in the second round of balloting, according to results released Monday — an unexpectedly strong sign of Egypt”s increasing turn toward conservative Islam and dissatisfaction with the U.S.-allied regime.
The final outcome — after a third round next week — will almost certainly do nothing to reverse the ruling National Democratic Party”s nearly quarter-century grip on power.
Candidates affiliated with the Brotherhood held only 15 seats in the outgoing 454-seat People”s Assembly.
Of the 308 seats open in the first and second rounds, the Muslim Brotherhood took a total of 47 outright and has sent 41 candidates to a second-round run-off on Saturday.
In the third stage of voting, on Dec. 1, 136 seats remain to be decided. President Hosni Mubarak appoints the remaining 10 legislators.
Mubarak”s NDP held a more than 80 percent majority in the outgoing legislature — counting so-called independent members who voted in lockstep with the government. It and its allies still control more than two-thirds of the seats decided in the first two rounds of elections this month. The remaining places in the legislature already decided went to candidates from an assortment of true independent parties.
"The people are saying we hate the ruling party, we hate the government and we will get anybody to rule us except you," said Negad el-Borai, a human rights advocate and elections” monitor.
Mohammed Habib, Brotherhood deputy leader and campaign chief, acknowledged some success grew out of dissatisfaction with the current regime, but said the organization”s wide popularity and charity work were the major factor in its success.
"You can deceive people for one day but not for all the time," Habib said. "The role the Brotherhood has played in the lives of people over the past 75 years — spreading true Islamic teachings and charity work — is the real reason people gave us their votes."
Habib said the Brotherhood”s success should not "frighten anybody," whether secular or Christian.
But there is large concern among many Egyptians about the Brotherhood”s platform, which is based on a vague call for the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab world”s largest nation. It advocates the veil for women and campaigns against perceived immorality in the media, but the group insists it represents a more moderate face of Islam than that followed in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia.
The organization was banned in 1954, and Mubarak has vowed never to legalize the group, saying he will not allow religious-based parties.
Nevertheless, the Brotherhood fields candidates as nominal independents whose sympathies are widely known. During this election, those candidates campaigned under the Brotherhood slogan, "Islam is the solution."
During the first round of elections, balloting was relatively peaceful — raising hopes of a clean vote amid Mubarak”s promises for greater democracy.
Despite widespread violence in Sunday”s second round, the United States expressed confidence the Mubarak government wants free and fair balloting without the intimidation and attacks.
Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, said the U.S. urged Egypt to allow the election to "unfold in an atmosphere in which people are able to express themselves freely."
A leading human rights group reported violence by NDP supporters against Brotherhood candidates and their backers. Voters were being intimidated in both Alexandria and Ismailia, both strongholds of the Brotherhood, the independent Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said.
At least one person was killed in rioting and scores were wounded. The Brotherhood said about 500 of its supporters were arrested.
The Brotherhood accused police and government supporters of trying to knock its candidates out of the race. The government, however, accused the Brotherhood of instigating the violence in some areas.
Al-Borai, the rights advocate, said the Brotherhood”s powerful showing may help the democratic process — by forcing the Mubarak regime to include more liberal and secular elements of the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism.
"Even if the ruling party had put an angel from heaven on the ballot, voters would hate him and vote against him," al-Boari said. "To the Egyptian people, the NDP is Mubarak and his old guard, and voters are bored with them."