Egyptians vote for upper house of parliament 

Turnout was low as Egyptians voted on Sunday for the upper house of parliament, in elections that are the latest step in the country's planned transition from military to civilian rule.

Few voters showed up to cast their ballots at polling stations in Cairo, one of 13 provinces where the first stage of elections for the largely advisory Shura Council are taking place. A second stage will take place on Feb. 14-15.

"We now feel we have a role in shaping the country's future," said Mohammed el-Hawari, a professor at Cairo's Ain Shams University and one of those who did vote.

The Shura Council is composed of 270 members. Only two-thirds are elected while the rest are appointed.

Islamists dominated elections for the People's Assembly, the more powerful of the two houses of parliament, in voting that ran from Nov. 28 through January. Turnout was heavy in these elections, which were the first since the Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2011, mass uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

One secular party, the Free Egyptians, had announced that it was boycotting Shura Council elections to protest what it described as violations of Egypt's election laws by Islamist parties during the People's Assembly vote.

The secularists say that that Islamists made heavy use of religious slogans and campaigned too close to polling stations. Islamist spokesmen have denied using slogans inappropriately, and said that all groups campaigned too close to the stations.

Secular and liberal alliances, including youth parties which led the anti-Mubarak uprising, have performed poorly in elections.

Once the Shura Council elections are complete, according to Egypt's transition plan, the parliament is tasked to select a 100-member panel to draft the country's new constitution. The ruling military council which took power after Mubarak's ouster is then scheduled to transfer power to an elected civilian president by the end of June.

The army generals have been accused of mismanaging the transitional period, of not carrying through sweeping reforms, and of keeping Mubarak's regime intact.

The voting comes a few days after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets to mark the first anniversary of their uprising and to press the military council to step down.

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