Egypt votes amidst arrests, apprehension and political antics

Amira Howeidy , Sunday 28 Nov 2010

Tension prevailed ahead of today’s parliamentary election and continued throughout the morning as voting began at 8:00 am local time.

Women voters line up in a voting station in Alexandria, Photo: AP
Women voters line up in a voting station in Alexandria, Photo: AP

In the city of Port Said near the Suez Canal, Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen said security forces arrested all their representatives who had been authorized to monitor the elections on the group's behalf. In Cairo’s Shubra district, Brotherhood candidate Hazem Farouk told Ahram Online that the Public Notarization Office had also cancelled the permits of 132 of his160 representatives who had initially been granted legal permission to observe the elections.

“We’ve tried everything legal and illegal in this election but nothing worked,” he said. 

All the Brotherhood's news websites went down this morning. The group’s web editor said the site crashed due to an exceptionally high number of visitors this morning. The group said that at least 1,400 of their members and supporters have been arrested this past week.

In the Cairo Qasr El-Nil district, candidate Gamila Ismail -- ex-wife of Ghad party leader Ayman Nour who ran in the 2005 presidential elections -- said that she woke to news that her elcotral number had been changed from “17” to “14” today. This has already led to a “loss of votes” she said.

Today’s vote is the first general election to be held without judicial supervision, since it was cancelled in a series of constitutional amendments in 2007. Previous to those amendments, elections were held across the nation over three election rounds, instead of the one-day process of this year's vote. Runoffs are scheduled for 6 December.

Sunday’s Arabic daily papers came out with a mix of euphoric and skeptical headlines. The indepedent daily newspaper, El-Shorouk led with: “Today is the election for the future”, while Al-Masry Al-Youm, another independent daily, was less optimistic, leading with “Egypt’s day of pride or shame”. Al-Araby, the mouthpiece of the opposition Nasserist party, declared the elections the “worst in Egypt’s history".

The elections have been marred by accusations of “early rigging”, primarily leveled by the opposition. A series of rulings by the State Council's Administrative Court to stop voting in at least 10 constituencies across Egypt and all the constituencies in Alexandria, were largely ignored by the Electoral Commission --  the body appointed and authorized by President Hosni Mubarak to organize and oversee the entire electoral process. No announcement was made that elections were to be stopped anywhere. It is yet unclear how the Administrative Court’s rulings will impact the legitimacy of the elections, or the legitimacy of the parliament to-be. 

While traffic in Cairo’s main streets and squares appeared at its usual levels of congestion this morning, security forces clad in black uniforms and armed with red batons, especially in East Cairo’s Heliopolis district, were conspicuous. Hundreds of “special forces” lined the entire main street of El-Orouba near president Mubarak’s residence and where he went to vote shortly before 10:00 am. The area was surrounded with armoured vehicles, fire engines, and troops of presidential guards and security forces.

Elections are underway in 29 governorates across Egypt and in 45,000 voting stations. Preliminary results are expected tonight, and the final results will be announced tomorrow morning. Approximately 5058 candidates are competing for parliament’s 508 seats from across 222 constituencies. Sixty-four seats are reserved for women. A record number of nine cabinet ministers are running for the elections in a telling sign that the parliamentary seat, and the immunity, influence, and leverage it has come to represent over the past decade, is a necessity for Egyptian politicians.

The Muslim Brotherhood is running with 130 “official” candidates and an undefined number of “substitute” candidates who registered themselves as independents. The Wafd, Tagammu and Nasserist parties fielded approximately 470 candidates. Speculation has been rife amongst pundits as to how the coming parliament will shape up, with emphasis on the opposition’s share in light of official statements that the Brotherhood, which won 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, will not secure the same victory again. In at least three press conferences over the past two weeks, the group accused the authorities of “early rigging”. Officials responded by accusing the group of resorting to chaos.

The NDP is expected to secure a comfortable victory that could exceed the two-thirds majority in the outgoing parliament, in which the opposition constituted 25 per cent (20% for the Brotherhood alone.)

Egypt refused to allow international monitoring of the elections, saying that it undermined national sovereignty. Officials said instead that local monitors can oversee the vote. Despite that, dozens of NGOs and watchdog groups who attempted to acquire permits to monitor the elections were denied the necessary permissions. However several independent monitoring groups have already reported  violations. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information announced today that voters in the delta town of El-Hamouk in Kafr El-Sheikh were denied entry to voting stations there. The network also reported clashes between the Wafd party’s candidate in Hamoul and security forces.





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