• November 25, 2005
  • 11 minutes read

Competition heating up

Competition heating up

Competition heating up
Last Sunday’s first round of the second stage of parliamentary elections was marred by violence. Al-Ahram Weekly’ s staff report from some of the country’s most heated constituencies

End of an era?
Reem Nafie watches as veteran opposition politician Khaled Mohieddin has a hard time in Qalyubiya

Kafr Shukr was calm last Sunday. People seemed to be heading out to vote in intermittent batches, between which the polling stations in the Qalyubiya Governorate constituency north of Cairo were virtually devoid of life.

The two main candidates competing for the constituency’s "professionals" seat were Tagammu Party leader Khaled Mohieddin and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Taymour Abdel-Ghani Sadek. Mohieddin and Sadek will be facing each other again in this Saturday’s run-off.

On Sunday, supporters of the Tagammu candidate seemed poised for success. Fliers and posters promoting Mohieddin — who has been the constituency’s MP for 15 years — were everywhere. The 83-year-old opposition party leader began his political career as a member of the Free Officers Movement that came to power in 1952 after ousting King Farouk. He was also part of the Revolutionary Command Council, the nation’s highest policy-making body, before resigning in 1954. In 1976, he returned to the limelight as head of the Tagammu.

Despite this illustrious history, Mohieddin was reportedly advised not to run again this year, on account of his age. However, when his relative, Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieddin — a senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) Policies Committee — hinted in October that he may run for the Kafr Shukr seat, the elder Mohieddin seemed more determined than ever to continue serving his parliamentary constituency. Citing family ties, the younger Mohieddin ended up backing out two weeks before the elections; he was not willing to run against "a senior member of the family," he said.

Mohieddin’s Muslim Brotherhood opponent Sadek aimed to exploit the growing sentiment in Kafr Shukr that the Tagammu leader was "too old" for another five years of parliamentary service. Mohamed Fahim, one of Sadek’s supporters, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, "a lot of people are tired of the same people maintaining their seats, as if they had inherited them." He said Sadek, and the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole, "are promising something new".

Many of those who said they had voted for Sadek expressed a belief in the "power of change". While admitting that Mohieddin was a "great opposition icon", that didn’t mean he should "automatically win again," they said.

The race for the constituency’s "workers" seat, meanwhile, is also heading for a run-off — between the NDP’s Ahmed Abdel-Aziz Seif and independent candidate El-Sayed Saad.


Extreme measures
Salonaz Sami sees an election turn violent in Fayoum

The sleepy governorate of Fayoum is still reeling from the violence that accompanied Sunday’s second round of parliamentary elections. Police barricades and armed vehicles continue to surround schools and polling stations. According to one resident, the normally peaceful governorate is now like "a volcano waiting to erupt".

The tension will probably rise with this Saturday’s run-off polls, when NDP and Muslim Brotherhood candidates will compete for seats in six of Fayoum’s seven constituencies.

On election day, the violence started in El-Bandar constituency’s El-Saha El-Sha’biya district, where a quarrel erupted between supporters of National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Mamdouh Salah Selim and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mustafa Ali Awadallah. Tens of people were severely injured and rushed to the hospital. Police were quickly deployed around the El-Saha El-Sha’biya School polling station; barricades were used to block all the streets leading to the school, and the polling station was closed for several hours.

Some residents suspected the incident was intended to drive voters away. Local merchant Mohamed Subih said the troublemakers were "sent by the NDP to scare people from voting for Awadallah," who is a very popular figure in the area. Another resident described the scene as a tragic comedy. "The thugs took out knives and metal chains from their pockets and started injuring themselves, while trying to place the blame on Awadallah’s supporters. When the judge tried to stop them, they hit him." The same group of thugs supposedly put on the same "show" at three other polling stations.

At the El-Saha El-Sha’biya School, security forces had to use tear gas to disperse the crowds, and scores of Muslim Brotherhood supporters ended up under arrest.

Awadallah blamed the government for what he called "unbelievable terrorism" meant to provide a pretext for closing polling stations early.

Eyewitnesses said NGO observers were not being allowed inside polling stations in most Fayoum constituencies. NDP supporters, meanwhile, were being permitted by police to intimidate voters. One man said that at the Abdel-Nasser Preparatory School, hapless voters were actually being ordered by NDP supporters to vote for the ruling party candidates. "These are not really elections," he said, "because we don’t actually have a choice."

In northern Fayoum’s Ebshway constituency, stronghold of NDP candidate and former Agriculture Minister Youssef Wali, there were also accusations of irregularities, albeit of a non-violent nature. Although Wali’s supporters seemed confident that the veteran politician would manage to retain his seat, he will still have to face … in Saturday’s run-off.

Ebshway’s vote-counting process was supposed to have taken place at the main polling station in El-Bandar. According to a report issued by the Independent Committee for Election Monitoring, a coalition of 16 NGOs led by the Ibn Khaldun Centre, however, the vote-counting was shifted — at the last minute — to an auxiliary station in the Youssef El-Siddiq district, right in Wali’s backyard.


Ballot boxes burned
Hicham Safieddine witnesses a chaotic day in Port Said

Run-offs will be held in all three of Port Said’s constituencies on Saturday, following last Sunday’s heated — and often violent — voting in the second stage of parliamentary elections. With close to 240,000 of the coastal town’s residents registered to vote, over 100 candidates were vying for 12 seats.

Competition was fierce between the National Democratic Party (NDP), the Muslim Brotherhood and popular local opposition party candidates like the Tagammu’s El-Badri Farghali and the Wafd’s Mohamed Mustafa Sherdy. Both Farghali and Sherdy will take part in the run-offs.

One of the fiercest election day disturbances took place near the Qabooti and Ohud schools in Port Said’s El-Arab constituency, where police used tear gas to disperse crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and polling stations were closed for several hours.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Akram El-Shaer told Al-Ahram Weekly the heavy police presence and the closing of polling stations was intended to intimidate the district’s residents. "We have complained to the Parliamentary Elections Committee, and plan to file more complaints about the extent of violations taking place," said El-Shaer, a practicing physician who enjoys considerable popularity for the social and health services he offers.

One independent elections observer, who did not want to be identified, said observers were kicked out of the polling stations for a couple of hours.

At one point, thugs wielding swords and machetes stormed the voting areas and tried to smuggle in what was believed to be ballot boxes filled with rigged ballots. Police forces formed a cordon around the school, and would-be voters were held back for hours. Later, voters lined up in an orderly fashion to cast their ballots, but very few were actually allowed to cross the police barrier.

Towards the evening, two ballot boxes were set ablaze inside the polling station; witnesses said NDP thugs were behind the attack.

Many residents are worried about the potential for even more violence during Saturday’s run-offs.


Brawl in Beheira
Mohamed El-Sayed sees plenty of thuggery in Damanhour

There were only three clear winners amongst the 26 parliamentary seats being contested in El-Beheira governorate’s 13 constituencies last Sunday. The remaining 23 will be fought over by 46 candidates in this Saturday’s run-offs.

El-Beheira’s capital city, Damanhour — situated some 170 kilometers northwest of Cairo — witnessed some of the most violent of the incidents that marred the second round of parliamentary elections. Thuggery took place in different Damanhour districts; in front of one polling station, about 30 thugs got out of two pickup trucks without license plates at 10:45am, and began attacking voters with bayonets, sticks, knives and bottles filled with acid and petrol, according to eyewitnesses. At least five people were seriously injured and transferred to hospital. "The thugs continued to attack people for almost half an hour under the indifferent gaze of the police," said Ahmed Mustafa Barada, who was severely injured in the head during the attacks.

Many voters who spoke to the Weekly accused the government of perpetrating the violence. "When a group of people eventually got hold of one of the thugs," Barada said, "he confessed that he had been released from prison on the eve of the elections, and was trucked in, along with the other thugs, to frighten voters away from polling stations, in exchange for money or being let out of jail."

After attacking voters, the thugs inflicted injuries on themselves, according to physician Ihab Nassar, who treated some of them when they later headed to a nearby hospital.

The hottest Damanhour contest by far was between Mustafa El-Fiqi, head of the outgoing People’s Assembly’s foreign affairs committee and a senior member of the National Democratic Party’s influential policies committee, and prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader Gamal Heshmat, who represented the constituency in the outgoing parliament before being stripped from his seat in 2003. Heshmat lost his parliamentary membership after the Court of Cassation said that elections in Damanhour in 2000 featured a vote-counting error that wrongly prevented one of Heshmat’s rivals from taking part in a run-off.

Initial reports from the vote- counting committee indicated that Heshmat was likely to win this year’s contest. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate claimed to have gotten more than 35,000 votes, compared to El-Fiqi’s 7,000. "When I asked the judge to announce the final result, he asked me to wait until he made some phone calls," Heshmat said. "A while later, the judge told me that I had lost. When I asked for an explanation, he lowered his head and said, ’I have nothing else to tell you except that you lost’."

On Monday, Heshmat said he would first resort to the Egyptian judiciary in an attempt to restore his "stolen" seat; if that didn’t work, he planned to take the matter up with international organisations. He warned of "a strong and angry long-term reaction from the people of Damanhour. The public here is extremely aggravated by the regime’s insistence on imposing hated figures to represent them in parliament."