Egypt begins next round of voting

Egyptians in nine provinces have started voting in the second round of the first parliamentary elections since a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Egyptians in nine provinces have started voting in the second round of the first parliamentary elections since a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Dozens of people waited in line outside a polling station in a school near the Pyramids in Giza west of Cairo, waiting to cast their ballots and dip their fingers in purple ink to prevent double voting.

The election, held in three stages that will conclude early next year, is the first since Mr Mubarak's departure and is expected to swing Egypt's government in a more Islamist direction.

Islamist parties took a majority of the seats contested in the first round, and many expect them to do at least as well in the subsequent rounds.

Voter Hussein Khattab, an accountant, said he planned to vote for the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, the big winner in the first round, which took 47% of the seats awarded so far.

"We have to try Islamic rule to be able to decide if it's good for us. If not we can go back to Tahrir," said Mr Khattab, 60, referring to the Cairo square that was the focus of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak.

"I want to have a constitution that will satisfy everyone," he said. "This must achieve democracy, social justice and equality above all else."

The Brotherhood faces its stiffest competition from ultra-conservative Salafi Muslims, whose Al-Nour bloc won an unexpected 21% of seats in the first round.

The liberal Egyptian Bloc, which took 9% of seats in the first round, is looking to increase its share and has vowed to beef up its presence near voting stations to ensure that Islamist parties are not violating the legal ban on campaigning on election days.

Many parties violated the ban during the first round by distributing flyers and chatting to voters outside polling places. The election commission has said that this time it will monitor polling stations for violations.

Many expect the Islamist parties to maintain their leads given the rural and conservative nature of the provinces voting. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, was founded in 1928 in the Suez Canal province of Ismailiya, one of the areas voting today, and has a history of activism there. It is the most powerful political force to emerge since Mr Mubarak's departure.

The second round, which ends on Tuesday, will decide 180 seats in the 498-seat People's Assembly, the parliament's lower house. The third and final round is scheduled for early January.

While electoral competition has been fierce, it remains unclear what powers the new parliament, expected to be seated in March, will have.

In theory, it is supposed to form a 100-member assembly to write a new constitution.

But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled the country since Mr Mubarak's fall, says the parliament will not be representative of all of Egypt, and thus should not have sole power to draft the constitution. Last week, the military appointed a 30-member council to oversee the process.

The Muslim Brotherhood has refused to participate in the council and is pushing for a stronger role for parliament.

Since taking power, the military has sought to protect and expand its special place in the Egyptian state, saying at one point that it would choose four-fifths of the members of the constitutional committee. It is also trying to protect its budget from oversight by a civilian body.

A strong showing by the Brotherhood in the elections could give it a greater popular mandate in its struggle with the military.

Nearly 19 million voters are eligible to vote in the second round in the provinces of Giza, Bani Sueif, Sohag, Aswan, Suez, Ismailiya, Beheira, Sharqiya and Menoufia.

The much weaker upper house of parliament will be elected in three more rounds that will end in March.

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