Runoff elections in Egypt expose Islamist tensions

2 competing Muslim parties resort to violence to gain political victory

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CAIRO — A runoff Monday for Egypt’s first-round parliamentary elections exposed tensions between competing Islamist parties that so far have dominated the vote.

In the southern province of Assiut, supporters of the hard-line Islamist Gamaa Islamiya attacked and chased away campaign workers from the Muslim Brotherhood outside a polling station where the two groups were facing off in a vote.

Supporters of one Brotherhood candidate said they received death threats and one of their clerics was beaten up by campaign workers of Gamaa Islamiya - a former militant group now running a political party.

The Freedom and Justice party of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized political group, is in the lead so far, according to official results released on Sunday.

Gamaa Islamiya is part of the second-place Al-Nour alliance with the ultraconservative Salafis, hard-liners who seek to impose strict Islamic law on Egypt.

The elections are the first since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in a February uprising and are the freest and fairest in living memory.

Voters are choosing individual candidates and parties, and runoffs on Monday and Tuesday will determine almost all the seats allocated for individuals in the first round, about a third of parliament’s 498 seats.

The two leading Islamist blocs of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis took the overwhelming majority of the first-round vote for parties, with 60 percent, a huge blow to the liberal and youthful activists who drove the uprising.

But the tallies offer only a partial indication of how the new parliament will look. There are still two more rounds of voting in 18 of the country’s 27 provinces.

Still, the grip of the Islamists over the next parliament appears set, particularly considering their popularity in provinces voting in the next rounds. The runoffs are unlikely to alter the Islamists’ dominance.

The first round of voting includes the capital Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria in Egypt’s north. Turnout in Cairo Monday was very weak, with little drama.

In Assiut, tensions between Islamists were simmering. The province is a stronghold of Gamaa Islamiya, a former militant group that fought the Mubarak regime in a bloody insurgency in 1990s.

Since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, hard-line Islamists, many of whom were released from prison, exploited a growing security vacuum in the country and grew increasingly assertive in a push for power.

In Assiut, they wrested control of mosques from government-appointed preachers and installed their own prayer leaders. The city is filled with signs exhorting residents to follow Islamic teachings and women to wear the hijab, or Muslim headscarf.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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