Polls opened on Sunday in an election for Egypt's upper house of parliament, with Islamists seeking to repeat the success they enjoyed in elections for the lower house.

Begun in late November, the parliamentary votes are the first since a popular uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak last February.

The Muslim Brotherhood, banned during Mubarak's rule, won 47 percent of lower-house seats, many more than any other party, and a low turnout on Sunday was blamed by some voters on the feeling that the upper-house vote now mattered little.

After the lower-house election that saw an unprecedented turnout and was hailed as Egypt's most democratic since military officers overthrew King Farouk in 1952, some Egyptians knew nothing of the upper-house vote.

I came to vote today because it is my right and I will be held accountable to God, said Nour Essam, a 28-year-old university teacher. But I am sad to see that no one was there at my polling station.

It is wrong -- your vote will matter, said a young woman. I will go now and urge all my family members to come and vote.

The powers of the upper house are limited, and it cannot block legislation in the lower house. However, its members must be consulted before lower-house members of parliament pass any bill.

Under an interim constitution, both houses are responsible for picking a 100-member assembly that will write a new constitution to replace the one that helped keep Mubarak in power for three decades.

The Shura council [upper-house] elections are as important as the People's Assembly [lower-house] elections, said Hussein Ibrahim, a member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and head of its parliamentary bloc.

Voting for the upper house will be held over two stages ending in the middle of February.

Ninety of the 270 seats will be decided in the first round of voting on Sunday and Monday, with runoffs on Feb. 7. Another 90 will be determined by voting on Feb. 14 and 15, with runoffs on Feb. 22.

The remaining 90 will be appointed by Egypt's next president, expected to be elected in June according a transition timetable drawn up by the military council to whom Mubarak handed power nearly a year ago.

The elected part of the Shura council will convene without the appointed seats until presidential elections are held and the new president appoints the other 90 members, an official from the body overseeing the election told Reuters.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)