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10 December 2023

Egyptians vote in final phase of landmark polls


Egyptians were set to vote on Tuesday in the final round of a landmark post-revolution election that has propelled Islamist movements into the centre stage of politics.

The last 15 million voters yet to cast their ballots in the first parliamentary polls since the overthrow of veteran president Hosni Mubarak last February were to have their say.

Polling stations were due to open at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in nine provinces including the Nile Delta, the south and the tourist resorts of South Sinai, with voting taking place over two days.

Egypt's main Islamist parties claimed a crushing victory in the first two rounds of voting.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the country's best organised political movement which was widely expected to triumph in the polls, has claimed the lead through its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

But the surge of Al-Nur, which represents the ultra-conservative Salafi brand of Islam, has raised fears among increasingly marginalised liberals about civil liberties and religious freedom.

The Islamists' victory, which mirrors a pattern in the region since the Arab Spring uprisings of last year overthrew authoritarian secular regimes, has also raised concerns about the future of the country's lucrative tourism industry.

The Islamists' liberal rivals -- including the country's oldest party Al-Wafd and liberal coalition the Egyptian Bloc -- have fared badly in the first two rounds of voting.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when Mubarak was ousted, has repeatedly pointed to the elections as proof of its intention to hand the reins to a civilian government.

But the vote has exposed a deepening rift among Egyptians. Some see them as the first step to democratic rule, while others say the new parliament -- whose function remains unclear -- leaves control in the hands of the military.

The SCAF has faced growing outrage over the actions of security forces against demonstrators for an immediate transition to civilian rule, which have resulted in dozens of deaths and been widely criticised as heavy-handed.

The SCAF has also come under fire after raids on 17 offices of non-governmental organisations, three of them US-funded, that prompted hints from Washington that it may review its huge aid programme.

The ruling military has decided on a complex election system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, that will comprise two-thirds of parliament, and also for individual candidates for the remaining third of the lower house.

The procedure to elect a full assembly ends in February, after Egypt's military ruler decreed on Sunday that the multi-phase elections for parliament's consultative upper house, the Shura Council, will be held over a shorter period.

With the final elections wrapping up earlier, the two houses will now be able to move more swiftly towards writing a new constitution.

The election for a new president is to take place by June.