Egypt says no to foreign poll monitors

Egypt says no to foreign poll monitors

 Egypt’s ruling party has rejected as “interference” calls, including by Washington, to allow foreign observers to monitor this month’s parliamentary elections, media reports said on Wednesday.

The National Democratic Party’s secretary general Sawfat al-Sharif said only local groups would be allowed to observe the November 28 poll.

“Foreign monitoring is considered an interference in Egypt’s affairs,” Al-Ahram newspaper quoted Sharif as saying. “The National Democratic Party and legal opposition groups reject any such interference,” he added.

US State Department spokesperson Phillip Crowley told reporters on Monday that Washington supported free elections in Egypt.

An open electoral process, he said, “would include a credible and impartial mechanism for reviewing election-related complaints, a domestic election observation effort according to international standards and the presence of international observers.”

The last election in 2005 was marred by violence and allegations of fraud by judges who supervised the ballot count.

The largest opposition group in parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood, registers its candidates as independents because of a ban on religious parties.

The movement won a fifth of parliament’s seats in the last election, although police closed down polling stages towards the end of the vote. It is expected to win fewer seats this year after a crackdown on the Islamists.

A Brotherhood leader said on Tuesday that police have arrested 600 of its members in the run up to the election. About 250 remain in jail, according to the group.

The government says the election will be transparent and that it has set adequate mechanisms for dealing with complaints of irregularities.

Egypt’s parliament has little power and is dominated by the National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled since 1981.

Rights groups in Egypt say the election has already been compromised by arrests of opposition activists and new restrictions on companies that provide foreign media with satellite feeds.