Islamists vow to push for more religious Egypt

Egypt’s ultraconservative Islamist party said Friday it plans to push for a stricter religious code in Egypt after claiming surprisingly strong gains in this week’s initial round of voting for parliament, the first elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s ultraconservative Islamist party said Friday it plans to push for a stricter religious code in Egypt after claiming surprisingly strong gains in this week’s initial round of voting for parliament, the first elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

Egypt’s election commission announced only a trickle of results Friday and said 62 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the highest turnout in Egypt’s modern history. Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim, the head of High Election Commission, jokingly described it as “the highest since the time of pharaohs.”

Preliminary counts leaked by judges and individual political groups indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm took the largest share of votes. Following closely behind, was the ultraconservative Islamist Nour Party and a coalition of liberal parties called the Egyptian bloc, according to those unofficial counts.

That trend — if confirmed and if extended over more rounds of voting — would give the religious parties a popular mandate in the struggle to win control from the ruling military that took over from Mubarak and ultimately reshape a key U.S. ally.

The Islamist Nour Party expects to get 30 per cent of the vote, party spokesman Yousseri Hamad told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

A strong showing would put them in a position to influence policy, although it’s unclear how much power the new parliament will have with the ruling generals still in overall control. For example, the military, which is not keen to see Egypt delivered to radical Islamists, maintains that it — not the largest bloc in parliament — will choose the next Cabinet. It is also poised to closely oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

The Nour Party’s purist pursuit of strict Shariah, or Islamic law, would also face tough opposition from a diverse array of youth activists in the streets, Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, as well as liberal and secular political parties pushing for more social and political freedoms — perhaps forcing it to veer less toward the large role that religion plays in Saudi Arabia.

The Nour Party is the main political arm of the hard-line Salafi movement, which was inspired by the Saudi-style Wahhabi school.

Salafists are newcomers on Egypt’s political scene. They long shunned the concept of democracy, saying it allows man’s law to override God’s.