CAIRO — Former President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday dismissed concerns about the success of Islamist parties in Egypt’s first elections since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, because it represents the will of the Egyptian people.
Carter’s Atlanta-based Carter Center has sent 40 observers to monitor Egypt’s staggered parliamentary elections since voting started in late November, the freest and fairest in decades. Under Mubarak, elections were blatantly rigged, and turnout was often tiny.
Carter said his organization was “very pleased” with the conduct of the elections so far.
“There have been some problems in general, but the will of the people has been expressed accurately,” Carter told reporters at polling station in a girls school in the Cairo neighborhood of Rod al-Farag.
Some voters in a run-off election for the third round to elect the lower house of parliament stopped to snap photos of the former president with their mobile phones.
Islamist parties have taken a solid majority in the parliament. The political party of the Muslim Brotherhood has won between 40 and 50 percent of the vote, and a coalition of ultraconservative Salafi Muslim parties received another 20 percent.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Carter dismissed the idea that the U.S. should be concerned about the Islamist victory.
“I don’t have any problem with that, and the U.S. government doesn’t have any problem with that either,” he said. “We want the will of the Egyptian people to be expressed.”
The visit was Carter’s first public appearance since his arrival in Egypt Monday for a five-day visit, in which he will inspect polling sites and counting stations and meet Egyptian officials and political party representatives.
Journalists and curious voters mobbed Carter when he entered the school’s dirt courtyard, surrounded by security guards and Egyptian military police. Dressed in a matching rugby shirt and cap, both bearing the Carter Center logo, he chatted briefly with election officials .
His group plans to release its complete observations on the three stages of the vote on Friday.
Carter declined to take sides in a thorny debate about who will select the 100-person body to draft a new Egyptian constitution this year. While the newly elected parliament is supposed to appoint the drafters, generals of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, which took control of the country after Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising that erupted Jan.25, have indicated they wan t a significant role in the process, fearing the strength of the Islamists.
Carter said only that his organization would try to foster “a peaceful relationship between the SCAF and the elected officials to write a constitution that will give the Egyptian people permanent peace and permanent freedom and permanent democracy.”
Although the military, which oversaw the elections, is viewed favorably by many Egyptians, activists accuse the ruling generals of using Mubarak-era tactics to stifle dissent.
Four people, including an Egyptian presidential candidate, have been summoned for questioning in connection with violent protests calling for an end to military rule in December. The clashes with the military, outside Cabinet headquarters in downtown Cairo, killed at least 17 protesters.
Ayman Nour said Tuesday he was banned from traveling abroad for allegedly inciting the violence. He denied the accusations and told The Associated Press he is being targeted for being an outspoken opposition figure who ran for president against Mubarak in 2005 and was imprisoned at the time.
“This is like Mubarak’s regime and more. It is a despicable situation,” he said. “I told the state prosecutor that I took part in inciting the Jan. 25 uprising, but nothing else.”
Wealthy architect Mamdouh Hamza has been banned from traveling abroad for allegedly financing the protests in December.
Also called in for questioning in connection with the clashes were prominent activist Nawara Negm and Al-Azhar cleric Mazhar Shahin, of Egypt’s most respected religious institution, who has preached at the mosque near Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests.