Egypt - AP - Nov. 2011
Egyptian women waiting to vote, November 2011. Photo by AP
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Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, emerging as the biggest winner in the first round of parliamentary elections, is seeking to reassure Egyptians that it will 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 on Saturday 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," el-Erian said of his Freedom and Justice Party. "We want to apply the basics of Shariah 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 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, el-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 Shariah law as the basis for legislation, however Egyptian laws remain largely secular as Shariah 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."

El-Erian urged the Brotherhood's political rivals to accept the election results.

"We all believe that our success as Egyptians toward democracy is a real success and we want everyone to accept this democratic system. This is the guarantee for stability," he said.

For decades, Mubarak's regime suppressed the Brotherhood, which was politically banned but managed to establish a vast network of activists and charities offering free food and medical services throughout the country's impoverished neighborhoods and villages.

It is the best organized of Egypt's post-Mubarak political forces.

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

Meanwhile, the swearing-in of a new temporary Cabinet was delayed on Saturday due to disagreements over key posts, including over who will lead the ministry in charge of internal security.

An official in the Interior Ministry said several high-ranking security officials have been named as possible replacements but that some have turned down the offer.

Protesters have also strongly objected to the nominations put forward by newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, who served in the same position under ousted President Hosni Mubarak from 1996 to 1999.

The country's ruling military general, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, appointed el-Ganzouri as a new interim prime minister last month after the previous premier's government resigned in the wake of a police crackdown on protesters that killed over 40 people.

The interim Cabinet will serve until after the parliamentary elections finish in March. A new government is to be formed after the legislature is seated.

Activist Hussein Hammouda, a retired police brigadier, is among those opposed to the names being considered for the Interior Minister post and says someone from outside the police force should be chosen instead.

Protesters in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt's protests, released a statement saying they would continue their sit-in while allowing traffic to resume normally in the area.

There were tens of thousands of protesters in the square in the days leading up to the elections, but numbers have dwindled to several hundred since then. Protesters demanding el-Ganzouri be replaced as prime minister said they will keep up another sit-in outside the Cabinet headquarters.