The Muslim Brotherhood's success in Egypt's parliamentary elections, which came to a turbulent end on Thursday, will reverberate around the Arab world. The region traditionally looks to Cairo for a lead. And potentially incompatible demands for strengthened civil societies and the integration of Islamists into mainstream politics are this year's hot topic.
The Brotherhood's advance also poses a dilemma for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and for the US and other countries urging greater Middle East democracy but fearful of Islamist activism. Officially the Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, as in several Arab countries. The Bush administration refuses to talk to the movement. It is equally wary of Islamists such as Hamas, expected to make gains in next month's Palestinian elections.
Poll results gave the ruling National Democratic party and its allies roughly 333 seats in the 454-seat assembly. Secular parties and independents took a handful of seats. But the Brotherhood was the big gainer. Its 19 percent share of the vote, translating into a record 88 seats, confirmed it as Egypt's main opposition group -- despite its decision to field only about 150 candidates for fear of provoking a crackdown.
The elections saw a repeat of the fraud claims that marred Mubarak's re-election triumph in September. Violence and mass arrests of Brotherhood supporters accompanied the poll, and on Wednesday at least eight people were killed amid widespread complaints that police had stopped some opposition voters casting their ballots.
"Bullets govern the elections," the opposition Al-Wafd newspaper declared.
The pro-government Al-Gomhuria warned that "The Mullahs are Coming!", playing on fears that although the Brotherhood's campaign emphasised practical issues, its slogan "Islam is the Solution" pointed to a hidden agenda of social intolerance, Shariah law, repression of women and hostility to religious minorities.
The Brotherhood says that is a distortion. Spokesman Mohammad Moursi said earlier this year: "All around the world, people want to be democratic, to pick their own leaders. Creating a democratic, civil party is our aim. We want political reform. But the Constitution says the main source of all laws is the Koran."
Meanwhile, Egypt's reform rollercoaster hit another trough this week with the renewed detention of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour.