More than eight million Egyptians voted in the opening round of their first free vote in six decades in what the election chief said Friday was a turnout of 62 percent, far higher than in the rigged polls of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood’s party and its ultra-conservative Salafi rivals looked set to top the polls, to the alarm of many at home and abroad. Moderate Islamists have won elections in Tunisia and Morocco in the past two months.
The emergence of ambitious Salafi parties is one of the starkest measures of change in post-Mubarak Egypt. The world is watching the election for pointers to the future in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation and one hitherto seen as a firm U.S. ally committed to preserving its peace treaty with Israel and fighting Islamist militancy.
Abdul Moez Ibrahim, the head of the election committee, joked that the turnout was the highest in any Egyptian election “since the pharaohs.” It was even greater than in the “forgeries of the past elections,” he added, referring to the Mubarak era.
He said 8.3 million of 13.6 million registered voters in areas that voted in the first round had cast their ballots. Other parts of the country will vote in two more rounds, and run-offs must also be held in a six-week election process.
“The blood of martyrs has watered the tree of freedom, social justice and the rule of law. We are now reaping its first fruits,” Ibrahim said in tribute to more than 850 people killed in a popular revolt that toppled Mubarak in February.
Protesters were out again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday to mourn 42 people killed in the 10 days before the vote at rallies demanding the generals who replaced Mubarak give way to civilian rule.