Clashes mar Egyptian parliamentary voting

Clashes mar Egyptian parliamentary voting


 Riot police barred Egyptian voters from polls Saturday as knife and gun clashes between supporters of Islamist and secular political parties marred runoff parliamentary elections.

The violence, coupled with wide-scale arrests, contributed to low voter turnout and came amid efforts by the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement – Egypt’s largest Islamist group – to bolster its already impressive tally of 47 out of 186 seats decided so far.

The ruling National Democratic Party has claimed 122 seats and is expected to maintain control of the 454-member legislature at the end of Egypt’s three-stage elections. But the strong showing by the Brotherhood – already tripling its previous number of the seats – has been followed by violence, unrest and detentions.

Saturday’s runoff was to decide 122 seats in nine provinces where no candidate got more than half the vote in the second round Nov. 20. Polls closed at 7 p.m.; initial results were expected later Saturday, with final tallies within three days.

Senior Brotherhood member Ali Abdel Fattah said police arrested 680 movement members and supporters Saturday. Earlier, a police official said 140 Brotherhood members were arrested.

At least five people were wounded in Saturday’s violence, led by armed thugs roaming streets on foot or in vehicles. There were also reports of police intimidation of voters. Security forces confiscated the identity papers of an Associated Press reporter covering the polls in the Nile Delta, north of Cairo.

Supporters of the Brotherhood, which has been banned since 1954, accuse the NDP of enlisting thugs to threaten voters, while the NDP and other political groups accuse the Brotherhood of instigating the violence.

The Brotherhood’s platform is based on a vague call for the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab world’s largest nation. 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.

Election monitors complained security forces blocked some of the 10 million eligible voters from casting ballots. Judicial official Hesham el-Bastawy said some judges were considering canceling the vote in some areas due to police cordons at polls.

“When some of the judges protested and demanded that the centers be open to the voters, they were insulted and humiliated by the police,” el-Bastawy told Al-Jazeera TV. “This is a grave development.”

The Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession said one of its monitors was arrested and police let only NDP supporters vote in the eastern city of Suez.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ibrahim Hammad denied that polls were closed or that police were blocking voters. He said elections were “unfolding in an orderly manner.”

The ministry also said at least 78 people were arrested for pelting police with stones, smashing a police car window and “terrorizing voters” in various centers including Alexandria, Port Said and Fayoum, west of Cairo. Police responded with tear gas in some cases, according to a ministry statement.

There were reports of anti-Brotherhood violence in three villages about 75 miles north of Cairo.

In Bolqina, voters claimed NDP-allied thugs attacked them. Brotherhood supporter Mokhtar Mohammed said men fired guns into the air and beat voters, including veiled women, with sticks before smashing several computers at a polling station.

“The security forces were looking on as we were being attacked,” claimed Mawaheb Mongged, a veil-wearing Brotherhood supporter, who said men beat her on her back with wooden sticks.

The village’s government-appointed mayor blamed the Brotherhood.

“They are thugs and fanatics. We are trying as much as we can to have a clean process that goes smoothly,” said Essam Amin el-Sebaie outside the polling station.

In Hayatem village, voters said about 30 thugs wielding swords, wooden sticks and guns attacked a Brotherhood polling center. In Attab, voter Essam Mohammed said three security trucks descended on the village, followed by a truck packed with thugs who attacked him and other voters with knives.

Social worker Zein el-Abedeen Mohammed, 33, said he would vote for the Brotherhood candidate in Hayatem purely “out of hate for the National Democratic Party.”

In the coastal city of Alexandria, the Brotherhood claimed candidates and supporters were harassed and attacked and some of its representatives barred from entering polls.