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Runoff races to further shape makeup of Egyptian parliament

An Egyptian man votes on November 29 in the country's first elections since the fall of long-time President Hosni Mubarak.

Story highlights

  • Carter may lead a delegation to Egypt next month
  • The administrative court has asked for cancellations in Alexandria, Cairo and Assiut
  • Islamist parties did well last week, in the first round of voting
  • Israeli leaders call last week's results "troubling," say Egypt shouldn't alter its relations

Egypt's complex elections continued Monday, with 104 candidates vying for 52 seats in a runoff for the lower house of parliament.

Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim, the head of the higher election committee, said he had received orders from the administrative court requesting the "cancellations of elections" in a number of polls, including those in Alexandria, Cairo and Assiut.

But the appeals court disagreed, "so it might be canceled or not," he said. Instead of announcing the results, the committee has decided to count the ballots and "store them in a fridge," announcing them only if they are deemed valid, he said.

Ibrahim said thugs destroyed the car of one of a judge and stole ballots.

Monday's voting, which continues Tuesday, began a week after Egyptians cast ballots for the first time since last February's toppling of long-time President Hosni Mubarak.

Last week's vote ended with moderate and more conservative Islamist parties winning big and, together, earning a majority of seats in the parliament, called the People's Assembly. Such results appear to mirror recent victories by moderate Islamists in Morocco and Tunisia.

Presidential candidate Amre Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general, told CNN Sunday that last week's results should serve as a wake-up call to more liberal and sectarian factions within Egypt. "This is a message to the liberal forces that they have to come together and ... mobilize themselves in order to create a strong opposition within the parliament," he said.

But, he predicted, this week's runoff will change the mix of parties in the legislative chamber. "The ... final results, I believe, will be more balanced," he said.

Last week, each Egyptian could cast three votes: two for independent candidates and one for a party or coalition. Four independent candidates secured seats, including Amr Hamzawy, once a research director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a spokesman of the "Board of Wise Men" that worked this year to foster negotiations between the government and anti-government protesters.

But other positions in parliament remain in limbo because no candidate won a majority, leading to this week's runoff.

The last step in the multi-step process occurs in June with presidential elections, according to military leaders who have ruled the country since Mubarak's fall.

Any new government will have to decide how to handle Egypt's relations with Israel. The two countries have been at peace since their leaders signed the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the talks that led to that peace, has expressed an interest in leading a delegation to Egypt, possibly next month, said Deborah Hakes, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based Carter Center.

But the successes of Islamists in elections have raised the specter that major changes, and perhaps rising tensions, could be on the horizon.

The relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won 40% in the first round of voting for the lower house of parliament, according to Yousri Abdel Kareem, head of the executive office of the Higher Judicial Election Council. The second highest total, at 20%, went to members of the Al Noor Salafi Movement, a hard-line Muslim group.

Speaking Sunday to his nation's Channel 2, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the Egyptian vote results "very troubling."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added Sunday that both countries would be best served by maintaining their current relations.

"I hope that whichever government takes power in Egypt would recognize the importance of maintaining the peace agreement with Israel," he said. "There is an importance in recognizing the peace with Israel, both as a value of its own and as a basis for the financial and security stability of the region."

But Moussa said change may be inevitable, given that "the Middle East of last year is ... gone for good." He said it should be no surprise that a "new Arab world" would want a "new set of relations," stressing that Israel would enjoy positive relationships with its neighbors if it were to end occupation of Palestinian territory.

"The Israelis must sit now and reflect. Egypt is no (longer) the Egypt they knew (and) the other neighbors are not the same and will not be the same," Moussa said. "There is a window of opportunity for all of us to solve the problems and move on in a totally new era, including Israel."

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