Egypt bars 90 percent of Islamist hopefuls from vote

Egypt bars 90 percent of Islamist hopefuls from vote

More than 90 percent of Egyptian Islamist candidates have been prevented from registering for April local elections due to a crackdown by the regime and a campaign of obstruction, one of their leaders said on Thursday.

Out of 5,159 hopefuls, only 438 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood have been able to register with hours to go before a Thursday deadline for registration, the group”s deputy supreme guide Mohammed Habib told AFP.

Most of the candidates were blocked by officials from registering their candidacy, Habib said.

“Since mid-February, over 900 members have been arrested,” he added.

A security official told AFP that a maximum of 300 had been able to register their candidacy.

The government has recently intensified its crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood — the largest and most organised opposition group in the country — ahead of the April 8 elections.

Hundreds of members have been arrested over the past month, including senior leader Mahmud Ghozlan last week.

Earlier this month, one member was hospitalised after being beaten by attackers as he tried to register his candidacy for the elections.

Traditionally controlled by President Hosni Mubarak”s National Democratic Party, the municipal elections have gained importance since a 2005 constitutional amendment required independent presidential candidates to have the backing of local councillors.

According to the amendment, independent candidates require the backing of 65 members of the lower house of parliament, 25 from the upper house, and 140 municipal councillors in order to run for president.

The minister for parliamentary affairs this week admitted to certain “mistakes” in the registration process, stressing that all candidates, including those belonging to the ruling party, had been victims of these irregularities.

Several courts this week ruled in favour of opposition candidates who had been banned from registering, calling on the registration offices to accept them, a judicial source told AFP.

“The ruling party is completely incapable of legally confronting the Muslim Brotherhood. It therefore resorts to exceptional and ridiculous measures,” Habib said.

The Brotherhood says the crackdown aims to block another election success after 2005 parliamentary polls in which the group won a fifth of seats through members standing as independents.

The group is officially banned but is allowed to operate, even holding press conferences and meetings in an office in downtown Cairo, but its members are subjected to routine crackdowns.

Other opposition groups including the liberal Al-Wafd said they had trouble during the registration process, with only 10 percent of their candidates also able to register.

“The regime is already preparing for the 2011 presidential candidates, by trying to limit as much as possible the Muslim Brotherhood representation at the local level,” Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo told AFP.

On Wednesday, the White House issued an unusual warning, apparently in favour of the Islamists, over the campaign of arrests.

“We call on the government of Egypt to cease any actions that would compromise the ability of the Egyptian people to fully exercise their internationally recognized human rights and to participate in a free and fair election,” said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

“We are concerned by a continuing campaign of arrests in Egypt of individuals who are opponents of the current governing party and are involved in the upcoming local elections,” said Perino.