egypt: Islamists ‘on track for major gains’

egypt: Islamists ‘on track for major gains’ 
Egypt’s Islamists claimed further gains last week in the latest round of parliamentary elections, maintaining their record-breaking first phase momentum despite widespread voter intimidation and violence.  
  Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Issam Aryan said his movement had won at least 13 seats in the second phase of the elections, without runoffs needed, bringing their seat tally to 47, trebling their 2000 score even before the elections’ third and final stage.
While President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was at no risk of losing power, it looked set to face a real parliamentary opposition for the first time.
But dozens of NDP renegades standing as independents are expected to rally to the ruling party once the elections are over.
The polling was marred by widespread violence, which claimed the first victim of the elections, the driver of a candidate whom independent monitoring groups said was beaten to death by NDP elements.
The usually peaceful city of Alexandria was the scene of pitched battles between supporters of rival candidates, as clans fought with sticks, knives and guns.
“Who can hit the hardest?” was the headline of Egypt’s leading independent daily Al-Masri al-Yom, which carried front-page pictures of men and teenagers wielding swords and even a candidate holding a handgun.
“The success recorded by the Muslim Brothers during the first phase sparked fear in the regime, which cannot bear the presence of opposition in Parliament”, the Islamist movement’s number two Mohammad Habib told reporters.
Observers had predicted that the ruling party would resort to strong-arm tactics to prevent the officially banned movement from making further inroads.
Monitors and opposition candidates reported the intervention of police and NDP elements to block access to polling stations. Mohammad Habib said close to 500 Brotherhood supporters were detained over the weekend.
But the Interior Ministry said the performance of the security services “was characterized by neutrality” and put the blame for the violence squarely on the Brotherhood.
But an official of the movement in Alexandria charged that the NDP had given thugs T-shirts inscribed with the Brotherhood’s campaign slogan “Islam is the solution” to mislead monitors.
Monitoring groups deplored the violence and complained that they had been given less access to the polling process than in previous rounds. Observers said the Brotherhood remained on course to clinch a total of 100 seats when the month-long polls end on December 7.
In the outgoing People’s Assembly, the NDP controls 404 out of 454 seats, while the Muslim Brothers were the largest opposition force but with only 15 seats.