(A woman walks under an electoral banner for the Al-Nour (the largest Salafi political party) ahead of Monday's parliamentary election in Cairo November 27, 2011.REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Salafi movement wants to model Egypt’s future on Islam’s past. If the first results of the country’s parliamentary elections are anything to go by, many Egyptians agree with them.

Ultra-conservative Islamists may have won 20 to 30 percent of the vote in the first leg of Egypt’s three-stage parliamentary vote, an outcome that has surprised and alarmed many Egyptians. They are worried about what this might mean for freedoms and tolerance in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Salafis look certain to emerge as a vocal bloc in the first legislature since Hosni Mubarak was deposed, confirming the historic changes under way since the removal from power of a man who dealt with Islamists mostly as enemies of the state.

Their influence over officialdom could reach further still, depending on cooperation with other Islamists also doing well in the election, namely the long-established Muslim Brotherhood which looks set to win more seats than any other group.