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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 17:29 GMT
Egypt's landmark election
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

A man casts his ballot in Cairo
The vote is being watched closely in other Arab countries
Egyptians are voting in the third and final round of an historic parliamentary election, which has seen the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood make unprecedented gains.

Despite the violence and the widespread allegations of fraud, this vote may still prove to be an event that radically alters the Egyptian political landscape.

The Muslim Brotherhood's unprecedented electoral success, which it is expected to consolidate in the final round, has changed the balance of power between the government and the opposition.

It has given the brotherhood, banned from open political activity, a legal platform.

With the protection of parliamentary immunity, its newly-elected members will be able to challenge and question the ruling National Democratic Party's policies without fearing arrest and harassment.

Secular opposition falters

The election has also uncovered the weakness of the secular and liberal opposition in Egypt.

While the Islamists have achieved success in the face of regular harassment and detentions, the legally-recognised parties have failed to make substantial gains despite having greater freedom.

For the country's Christian minority, the election has also been a disaster.

The Copts view the Muslim Brotherhood with suspicion.

Coptic representation is not expected to be bigger than in previous parliaments - only one Copt has been elected so far.

World attention

But this is not an exclusively Egyptian affair.

The vote is being watched closely in other Arab countries, particularly those with Islamist parties.

Egypt has traditionally been the political trend-setter for the region, and groups similar to the Muslim Brotherhood from Morocco to Kuwait will watch how the Egyptian group uses its electoral gains to promote their common goal: the creation of an Islamic state.

Yet despite the debate and excitement the election has generated in the Egyptian as well as the Pan-Arab media, the low turn-out is once again a reminder that voter apathy, fostered by decades of authoritarian rule, remains a chronic problem for Egyptian politics.

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