Islamists build Egyptian parliamentary bloc

 

The Muslim Brotherhood built its strength in Egypt's parliament this weekend, winning 29 seats in elections despite restrictions on voting and arrests of its supporters, official results showed today.

The Islamist group has now won 76 seats - more than five times the number it held in the outgoing chamber. About a third of parliament's 444 elected places have still to be decided.

The officially banned Brotherhood is contesting only a third of the seats, not posing a challenge to control over parliament by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which won 75 places in voting on Saturday, bringing its total to about 195.

But the Brotherhood's wins have shown the weight of political Islam as the strongest opposition force in Egypt and caught the government and NDP off guard.

The authorities have curbed leeway given to the Islamists in the early stages of voting. Police restricted voting and detained 860 of the Brotherhood's activists on Saturday -- the fourth of six days of legislative elections.

Riot police cordoned off polling stations in Brotherhood strongholds, either preventing anybody from voting or allowing only a trickle of people to cast ballots.

"The aim was to prevent voters from reaching the ballot boxes and to affect the result," Brotherhood deputy leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters. "But with perseverance the people and the Brotherhood were able to overcome the barriers."