© The Associated Press/Amr NabilEgyptian protesters rally Sunday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, demanding that the military council ruling Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak's ouster step down.
Parties that want an expansion of Islamic law captured a clear majority of the votes in Egypt's first election since the uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, according to results released Sunday.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party topped winners with 37% of the nearly 10 million valid ballots cast for party lists in the first of three electoral rounds for the Egyptian parliament.
The Brotherhood, a movement that seeks to expand Islamic law in many countries in the Middle East, prevailed in an election that included voters in Cairo and Alexandria, cities where liberal parties had hoped to exhibit their greatest strength.
Also winning big was the Nour Party, which took 24% of the vote. The party, dominated by the ultraconservative Salafis, did not exist until a few months ago. It seeks to impose strict Islamic law similar to Saudi Arabia in which women must be veiled and alcohol banned.
"I am excited by the Egyptians, not by any other thing," said Essam El Erian, vice president of the Freedom and Justice Party. "Egypt now is astonishing us and others. We are ready for democracy. We are a real democracy, and we can build our country."
Some Egyptians aren't convinced the Muslim Brotherhood will be moderate, as its leaders have claimed.
"I'd be a little nervous with the Brotherhood in power," said Arabic teacher Nermine Hassan Sayyed, who said she was concerned over women's rights. "What would Egypt look like? Would I be banned from walking on the street? From working? I hope they will not be extreme in their governing, but I'm not sure about that."
There are two more rounds of voting in 18 of the country's 27 provinces through January. The Islamists' hold over the next parliament appears set given that the remaining elections are in areas where they are strong.
"We did our best," said Mohammed Abou El Ghar, president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, part of a liberal Egyptian bloc that captured 13% of the vote and hopes to use it to counter Islamist views.
Under Mubarak, Egypt was a secular nation in which religious parties were harassed and banned. Islamic law is not applied to most aspects of law and society.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 as an Islamic alternative to Western influences. It inspired al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian and former member of the Brotherhood.
The group's election win could determine Egypt's future in many ways given that the new parliament is to appoint a committee to draft a constitution that many Islamists want based in part on principles in the Quran. But the ruling military council that has run Egypt since Mubarak's fall in February has suggested it will choose 80 of the committee's 100 members.
"The conflict will be over the soul of Egypt," said Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a senior researcher at the state-sponsored Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He called the parliament "transitional" with a "very conservative Islamic" outlook.
The Brotherhood's supporters said the Islamists will put Egypt on track toward economic improvement in a nation where unemployment is high and 40% of people make less than $2 a day.
"The Brotherhood knows that the country must be developed again," member Ahmed Abd El Salam said. "Now it's necessary for all different sects in society to work together."
The Brotherhood's success was due in part to its longtime presence in Egypt. Members are expected to contribute 7% of their income to the organization's activities, funding campaign rallies. The contributions also fund helpful social services the government has not provided.
"After elections are over, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists will take everything," said Salafi Muslim Hesham Al Ashry, a tailor in Cairo. "We will see what they'll do. They're better than all the others because they are the closest to sharia law."
Western nations have feared that Islamists would reject Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. El Ghar doubts this.
"The Brotherhood is very pragmatic, and they won't do something stupid like break it," El Ghar said.
"It's not for our benefit to break the peace treaty with Israel," bus driver Amed Awad said. "We want to it to be modified but not broken."
Many Egyptians realize the importance of peace and stability. "We look for relations with the West to depend on respect and common mutual interest," El Erian said.