Accusations fly as Egypt’s ruling party rivals are crushed (Roundup)

President Hosny Mubarak’s ruling party was set to clinch victory in the first and second rounds of Shura Council elections, but the aftermath of a violent and controversial electoral process could spoil the celebrations.

The Shura Council is the upper house of the Egyptian bicameral parliament. Established in 1980, the 264-seat panel takes its name from the Islamic term Shura, meaning consultation, but has little legislative power.

As polling stations closed late Monday rounding off the second round of elections, reports of violence, collective voting, and claims of rigging flew as strongly as they did in the first round held on June 11.

Civil society and human rights groups continued to count the flaws and to press complaints against the use of riot police and national security forces in shadowing NDP rivals, cordoning off ballot stations where Muslim Brotherhood members were running and in threatening voters, according to some of their reports.

As the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) prepared to celebrate, the leader of its biggest threat – the banned Islamic force that is the Muslim Brotherhood – mocked their victory and dismissed the party leaders as ’liars.’

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that 1,000 of their members, supporters of candidates were rounded up as they posted flyers allegedly carrying religious slogans.

Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated voters reported being beaten and harassed. In areas where Brotherhood candidates were on election lists, voters were told that the elections were cancelled.

It came as no surprise to observers that on the first round of the June 11 elections, the NDP won 69 of the 71 contested seats.

’If the NDP had men, a programme and the ability to challenge the Brothers, it would have never used security police to reach its ends,’ said the outspoken Mohammed Mahdi Akef Akef, leader of the Brotherhood, whose group fielded 19 candidates but lost all their seats in the first round.

The runoff elections on Monday took place between independents and NDP candidates for 16 seats.

’(But) these elections do not represent a special importance on our agenda,’ the so-called ’supreme guide’ of the group said, adding that the Brotherhood has ’more dangerous issues’ to attend to and that the elections only helped them establish a presence.

The Brothers are conservative activists entrenched among Egypt’s grassroots. Their group has called for the implementation of Islamic law, and takes ’Islam is the Solution’ as its political motto. It is said to be the biggest opposition to the NDP.

Concerning the possibility of dissolving the lower-house of parliament – the powerful and legislative People’s Assembly – in order to rid of its 88 Brotherhood-affiliated members, as some analysts had suggested after what happened at the Shura elections, Akef said that it was a possibility, but that no scenarios could be predicted under the current regime.

’Anything is possible under this authoritarian regime; a regime that cannot accomplish anything without security police,’ he said. ’The security police are ruling the country.’

The Brothers might have left the race empty-handed, all the while decrying what they deemed ’outright injustice.’ But they refused to admit defeat.

’The losers are those who violated the rules,’ said senior leader and Brotherhood political council member Essam el-Erian. ’Why do you think the regime never disclosed the election figures?’

Apart from the reported violations, clashes marred the elections’ scene, especially where ruling party candidates were either running against members of the same party or independents.

A total of 58 campaigners were arrested in Qeft city and Qena province in Upper Egypt, according to security sources.

In west Qena, 25 supporters of independent candidate Maher Moussa were arrested overnight and charged with thuggery and the use of violence during canvassing.

Early Monday, and only a few hours after elections began, supporters of Moussa allegedly picked a physical fight with the supporters of the NDP contestant. At least 19 people were arrested in this incident.

An exchange of fire between two different groups of campaigners belonging to the NDP and left-leaning al-Tagamu party in Qeft, several kilometres away from Qena, also led to the arrest of 14.

In some provinces, especially in Upper Egypt and North Sinai, tensions were high and ethnicity, origins, and tribe membership had the upper hand in controlling people’s choices.

A total of 31 candidates were in the contest and awaiting results. So far, the fate of 71 of the 88 contested seats has been decided in the first round of elections.

A contest on one seat in Qasr al-Nil was decided when a contestant left the race for the NDP candidate running in this constituency.

Results of the second round are expected to be announced early Tuesday.