• November 27, 2005
  • 7 minutes read

28-seat gain by Muslim Brotherhood

28-seat gain by Muslim Brotherhood

29-seat gain by Muslim Brotherhood 

BEHEIRA, Egypt – In a stunning result, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood captured at least 25 more seats in Egypt’s legislature Saturday, despite cordons of police who fired tear gas and rubber bullets in what appeared to be a determined government effort to block opposition voters and clamp off building momentum by the Islamic-based organization.

Early Interior Ministry figures showed the banned but tolerated Brotherhood increasing its share in the legislature to at least 72 seats, a more than fourfold jump over its representation in the outgoing parliament – with a third and final stage of voting still to go Dec. 1, with a runoff likely six days after that.

The outcome, if it becomes final, would push the Brotherhood theoretically past number of seats needed under new constitutional rules to nominate a presidential candidate in 2011.

Armed backers of both Islamist and secular politicians engaged in fierce clashes that – combined with police action – severely curbed turnout and scarred an election that was seen as a test of Egypt’s pledge to open its authoritarian political system.

Non-government organizations and judges monitoring the polls complained security forces blocked thousands of the 10 million eligible voters from entering polling stations in nine provinces where 122 seats were in play after no candidate garnered more than one-half of the vote in the second round of polling six days ago.

Three prominent figures from President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic party – Ahmed Abu Zeid, El-Sayed Rashed and Mohammed Abdellah, the former head of the legislature’s foreign affairs committee and president of Alexandria University – were among those turned out of the 454-seat People’s Assembly, where the NDP had held an 80-per-cent majority.

Before Saturday’s vote the Brotherhood – Egypt’s largest Islamist group – had racked up 47 of 186 decided seats. Mubarak’s NDP had won 122 seats and 17 went to other candidates in voting that began Nov. 9.

While there was no chance the Brotherhood would unseat the NDP, which with its allies held 388 of 454 seats in the previous People’s Assembly, the Brotherhood showing was a stunning outcome for an organization that previously held only 15 seats, with 41 occupied by other parties. Mubarak appointees fill 10 seats.

The president, meanwhile, unexpectedly cancelled plans to attend a EU-sponsored summit Sunday in Barcelona, Spain, at which Europe was to push for increased ties by linking billions of euros in economic aid to sweeping democratic and other reforms on the Mediterranean’s southern and eastern rims.

Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad said the press of developments in the Arab world were behind the cancellation and denied election violence was the cause.

Judge Hesham el-Bastawisy, deputy head of Egypt’s Court of Cassation, denounced the violence in an interview with the Arab satellite television channel Al-Arabiya.

"What we’ve been hearing since early morning about what is happening at polling stations indicates this is not an election. It’s a battle."

"Judges have been attacked, some wounded, some prevented from entering polling stations," el-Bastawisy said.

Senior Muslim Brotherhood member Ali Abdel Fattah said police arrested 680 members and supporters Saturday, with nearly 120 of that number detained in Alexandria alone.

In Laqana, a Nile Delta town 175 kilometres north of the capital Cairo, police blocked all voters from reaching the polling station throughout the day. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khalad Saad Attayia hails from there and was said to have near-unanimous support.

Dozens of residents showed marks on their bodies where they said they were hit by rubber bullets fired by police. Authorities launched volleys of tear gas every few minutes.

Mohammed Ahmed Haggag, a driver, had blood running from two wounds on his face that were caused, he said, by rubber bullets. Mohammed Khamis, a grocer, showed a dozen dark bruises on his back he said were caused by the rubber projectiles.

As the polling station closed at 7 p.m. local time, after 11 hours in which none of the 7,500 registered voters had cast ballots, streets in the village were empty of vehicle traffic but crammed with angry townspeople.

In the Mediterranean port Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, a western human rights worker at one polling station also reported police had kept Brotherhood supporters from casting ballots throughout the day. Police opened the cordon to supporters of Mubarak’s party when they showed up in buses at sunset, provoking a hail of stones from Brotherhood backers, said the U.S. observer, whose organization forbade him to give his name.

Witnesses in many parts of Alexandria said tear gas was choking residents as the polls closed, with people trying to seal their apartments against the acrid fumes.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ibrahim Hammad said no polling centres were closed and denied reports police were preventing voters casting ballots.

"The Interior ministry emphasizes that those claims are completely void of truth and do not have any element of credibility," Hammad said.

He said the election was "unfolding in an orderly manner."

Poll monitors and human rights groups, however, said the violence, coupled with wide-scale arrests, contributed to poor turnout across the country.

The first stage of voting was mainly peaceful but – after an initial strong showing by the Brotherhood – violence and police interference increased dramatically. At least one person died in violence Nov. 20 voting and hundreds have been wounded in melees. Most credible reports blame the violence on security forces and the NDP.

The Muslim Brotherhood was banned in 1954 and later that year accused of trying to assassinate Interior Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser, who became president in 1956. It renounced violence in the 1970s and avoids the ban on its activities by fielding candidates as nominal independents whose Islamic-based positions and sympathies are well known to voters.

The Brotherhood’s platform is based on a vague call for the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab world’s largest country. It advocates the veil for women and campaigns against perceived immorality in the media but the group insists it represents a more moderate face of Islam than that followed in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia.