- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CAIRO Egyptians turned out in large numbers Wednesday for a second round of parliamentary elections, with Islamists looking to boost their already overwhelming lead and liberal voters concerned the outcome will push the country in a more-religious direction.

Two Islamist blocs won close to 70 percent of seats in the first round on Nov. 28 and 29, according to an AP tally compiled from official results.

The secular and liberal forces that largely drove Egypt’s uprising were trounced, failing to turn their achievement into a victory at the polls.

The final two rounds of voting are not expected to dramatically alter the result and could strengthen the Islamists’ hand.

“We have to try Islamic rule to be able to decide if it’s good for us,” said Hussein Khattab, 60, an accountant waiting to vote at a polling station near the pyramids in Giza province on the western outskirts of Cairo.

“If not, we can go back to Tahrir,” he said, referring to the Cairo square that was the focus of the uprising in January and February that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

He said he planned to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most organized and well-known party. Its Freedom and Justice party took 47 percent of contested seats, while the even more conservative Al-Nour bloc won 21 percent.

The election is the first since Mr. Mubarak’s Feb. 11 ouster and is the freest in Egypt’s modern history. The parliament will be tasked, in theory, with forming a 100-member assembly to draft a new constitution.

But its actual role remains unclear.

The military council that has ruled since Mr. Mubarak’s fall says the parliament will not be representative of all of Egypt, and should not have sole power over the drafting of the constitution. Last week, the military appointed a 30-member council to oversee the process.

Nearly 19 million of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters can participate in the second round, which ends Thursday. It will decide 180 seats in the 498-seat People’s Assembly, the parliament’s lower house.

So far, many voters say they are just happy to participate in a real election after decades of fraud and vote-rigging by Mr. Mubarak’s party. Lines were so long at some polling stations that vendors set up shop to sell tea and snacks to voters during their wait.

The Islamists’ strong showing has raised questions about the future of a country that has faced deteriorating security and economic free-fall since the uprising.

The Brotherhood faces its stiffest competition from Al-Nour, the party of Salafi Muslims whose ultraconservative interpretation of Islam is similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia.

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