Last week’s Chambers of Commerce elections in Alexandria reflected official prejudice against the Muslim Brotherhood, reports Pierre Loza
Elections took place last week for the 105 board seats of the 26 Chambers of Commerce. No less than 309 candidates competed. The Muslim Brotherhood who were only able to secure nominations in Alexandria, didn’t win a single seat. They cried foul play.
The elections take place every four years — and results have already been announced with an estimated participation of 273,000 businessmen and merchant voters.
“It is one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s priorities to serve civil society. Why should those who want to serve their community, be subjected to oppressive security measures?” the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahdi Akef told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Despite promises of free elections made by the president of the National Union of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, Khaled Abu Ismail, the Brotherhood’s nominees claim that the Alexandria elections were among the most unfair in their chamber’s history. “They arrested 100 people and they did not allow voters to go through the security cordon to vote. I don’t understand where this fury, this denial of reality comes from. What risk does our participation pose to them,” Akef wondered.
Among the Brotherhood’s initial list in Alexandria was engineer Medhat El-Haddad, but he says he was not able to nominate himself because the issuance of his criminal record papers was intentionally procrastinated. “My request notice was urgent, this means that the document would be issued in a maximum of 48 hours, I got the document a week later. And as a result I was unable to nominate myself,” Haddad said. He also complained that a comprehensive data base, which included voter addresses and phone numbers, was only made available to certain nominees, whom he believes were strongly supported by the government.
“Even when we tried to rent a conference room in the Ramada Hotel to organise meetings, security officials told the hotel management that it was prohibited to rent,” explained Haddad. According to Haddad, the Brotherhood’s campaigners were arrested and handed down 15 days in jail sentences two days before the elections. Their official crime was attempting to infiltrate the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, in order to make use of its financial capabilities and spread the group’s ideas. “On the morning of the elections there was a security officer sitting in front of every single ballot box. And when they noticed anyone of our committee’s monitors, they would promptly remove them from the proximity of ballot,” Haddad said.
Out of the chamber’s nine elected board members in Alexandria, none of the three Brotherhood candidates were elected.
The President of the Internal Commerce Unit of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Osama Mazen, who is in charge of election monitoring said that, “The elections were 100 per cent free, fair and transparent,” Mazen said. He dismissed rumours circulating about the withdrawal of candidates in protest about fraud. “We were preparing for these elections from as early as 2005. Doing everything from validating voter lists to making sure no one who is deceased or bankrupt was on the electoral list,” Mazen said.
Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Zuweil claims that security Special Forces dressed in black attempted to storm his Alexandria home, last Friday at dawn while he was on a trip to Cairo.
“My wife would not open the door and they specifically said that this was due to my nomination in the Chamber of Commerce elections,” Zuweil explained. According to Zuweil, one of the major decisions that facilitated fraud in elections was the Ministerial Pamphlet Number Five of 2006. “This ministerial pamphlet allowed voter representatives to take people’s votes through a mandate. These mandates, which the law stipulates could only be issued two weeks prior to the elections, were readily available to our opponents on the morning of the elections. Some people had blank mandates, which means they simply needed anyone to sign and they would stamp it for them,” said Zuweil.
Zuweil asserts that Brotherhood candidates had a hard time even entering the chamber’s headquarters. “After finally getting in, I couldn’t find any of my supporters, people in the thousands were waiting outside the security cordon to vote and they were simply not allowed in,” Zuweil said. He added that people wearing a copper badge which read, “Mohamed my Beloved Prophet” were not permitted entrance. “This badge was how they made sure our people could not get in, it was blatant fraud,” he said. Zuweil believes the heavy-handed security measures were part of the reason people waiting outside the cordon began chanting anti- government slogans.
Ahmed El-Wakil, of the giving candidate list, which won by a landslide, sees nothing shady in the election process. “These badges they are talking about were handed out during the chamber’s celebrations of the prophet’s birthday. It’s a matter of personal preference,” El-Wakil said. He sites the chambers of commerce law as evidence of the illegitimacy of the Brotherhood’s presence in the electoral process. For Chamber of Commerce Law Number 189, Article 23 of 1951 stipulates that Chambers of Commerce cannot invest in the stock market, conduct monopolistic practices, or delve into political or religious affairs.
“We are talking about the interests of Egyptian merchants here. This is outside the realm of religion or politics. Even if they were elected under the umbrella of the Brotherhood, the board would be liquidated the following morning, because they have political as well as religious affiliations with the Brotherhood,” El-Wakil said.