CAIRO - Islamists claimed a decisive victory on Wednesday as early election results put them on track to win a dominant majority in Egypt's first Parliament since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the most significant step yet in the religious movement's rise since the start of the Arab Spring.
The party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's mainstream Islamist group, appeared to have taken about 40 percent of the vote, as expected. But a big surprise was the strong showing of ultraconservative Islamists, called Salafis, many of whom see most popular entertainment as sinful and reject women's participation in voting or public life.
Analysts in the state-run news media said early returns indicated that Salafi groups could take as much as a quarter of the vote, giving the two groups of Islamists combined control of nearly 65 percent of the parliamentary seats.
That victory came at the expense of the liberal parties and youth activists who set off the revolution, affirming their fears that they would be unable to compete with Islamists who emerged from the Mubarak years organized and with an established following. Poorly organized and internally divided, the liberal parties could not compete with Islamists disciplined by decades as the sole opposition to Mr. Mubarak. "We were washed out," said Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, one of the most politically active of the group.
The Twitter feeds of liberal-minded Egyptians have made for grim reading in the past few days. "The Big Pharaoh," an Egyptian who gained a following in the mid-2000s libertarian-conservative English-language blogosphere writing under that pseudonym, has been tweeting things like this:
We're convincing a friend who doesn't drink alcoholic beverages to do so. "Try before it's too late" we said.
I now know why my mom is so paranoid after the revolution. She had a lot of Jewish friends back in the late 50s.
Victory of Islamists is a direct result of Mubarak's rule and his habit of crushing any alternative to the Islamists. Will never forgive him
If you're even thinking that Mubarak was better, remember that such results are a direct outcome of his failed rule.
Egypt may be in for some dark days; Mubarak's ruling strategy probably made this inevitable. (It's a fantasy, by the way, to think that extending Mubarak's reign was a real option for US policymakers; the Obama administration might have stuck with him all the way down, and there might have been benefits to such a policy in addition to costs, but Mubarak was going down no matter what.)
There is a silver lining: A Salafi who is pressing his demented political agenda through a democratic process is one who is, at least for now, not joining a terrorist group. And if free and fair elections can be routinized, perhaps there will be a day when Egyptians elect a parliament that is interested in joining the 21st century.
Some have argued that the US should use its leverage to push the military on seeing through the democratic transition, and I mostly agree with them. But as the process of writing a constitution goes forward, it is perhaps even more important that the administration use its influence with the military to indirectly pressure the parliament to write a constitution granting the liberties -- freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of religion, universal suffrage -- that will give non-Islamist parties the ability to compete in the future.
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