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Egypt's winning party cool to Islamic law

CAIRO — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, emerging as the biggest winner in the first round of parliamentary elections, sought Saturday to reassure Egyptians that it would not sacrifice personal freedoms in promoting Islamic law.

The deputy head of the Brotherhood's new political party, Essam el-Erian, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that the group is not interested in imposing Islamic values on Egypt, home to a sizable Christian minority and others who object to being subject to strict Islamic codes.

"We represent a moderate and fair party," Erian said of his Freedom and Justice Party. "We want to apply the basics of sharia law in a fair way that respects human rights and personal rights," he said, referring to Islamic law.

The comments were the clearest indication that the Brotherhood was distancing itself from the ultraconservative Islamist Nour Party, which appears to have won the second-largest share of votes in the election's first phase.

The Nour Party espouses a strict interpretation of Islam similar to that of Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are segregated and women must be veiled and are barred from driving.

Egypt's election commission has released few official results from the voting on Monday and Tuesday. But preliminary counts have been leaked by judges and individual political groups showing both parties could together control a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament if they did form an alliance.

The vote for parliament's lower house is taking place over three stages, with 18 provinces in Egypt yet to vote. Parliamentary elections finish in March.

The Brotherhood recently denied in a statement that it seeks to form an alliance with the Nour Party in parliament, calling it "premature and mere media speculation."

On Saturday, Erian made it clear that the Brotherhood does not share Nour's more hard-line aspirations to strictly enforce Islamic codes in Egyptians' daily lives.

"We respect all people in their choice of religion and life," he said.

Another major check on such an agenda is the council of generals who have run the country since President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February. The military council, accused by Egypt's protest movement of stalling a transition to civilian and democratic rule, is seeking to limit the powers of the next parliament and maintain close oversight over the drafting of a new constitution.

Egypt already uses sharia law as the basis for legislation. However, Egyptian laws remain largely secular as sharia does not cover all aspects of modern life.

On its English-language Twitter account, the Brotherhood said that its priorities were to fix Egypt's economy and improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians, "not to change (the) face of Egypt into (an) Islamic state."

Israel keeps eye on election

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday that initial results from Egypt's parliamentary elections were "very, very disturbing." Barak said he hopes Egypt's first parliament to be seated after the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak will respect international treaties, including its shaky 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Ben Dor said Israel is not surprised by the Muslim Brotherhood's initial election gains and is convinced the Israel-Egypt peace treaty will remain intact. "We respect the election results in Egypt. This is the Egyptian people's choice," Ben Dor said.

Israel's main fear is the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been cool to the peace treaty and has close ties with the ruling Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip.

Egypt's winning party cool to Islamic law 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 6:55pm]
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