Egypt sets date for parly vote

Egypt sets date for parly vote

Cairo – Egypt’s three-phase parliamentary elections will kick off on November 9 and end on December 7, according to a presidential decree published in Tuesday’s local press.

Residents in the governorates of Cairo, Guiza (south of the capital), Menufiya (in the Delta), al-Wadi al-Gadid (in the Western Sahara) and in the Upper Egypt governorates of Beni Sueif and Assiut will be the first to cast their ballots.

The second stage on November 20 will take pace in Alexandria in northern Egypt, in the Delta towns of Beheiria, Qaliubiya and west of the country in Gharbiya, Ismailiya, Port Said and Suez. Residents of Fayum and Qena, in Upper Egypt, will also vote on that day.

Finally, on December 1, Egyptians will vote in Daqahliya, Sharqiya, Kafr el-Sheikh and Damiette in the Delta, in Sohag and Aswan in Upper Egypt and in the governorates of the Red Sea, North Sinai and South Sinai.

Second rounds are scheduled, should the need arise, six days after the first one in each of the districts.

The decree also says the new parliament will hold its first session on December 13



Clear voter boxes in Egypt


Cairo – Egyptians will cast their ballots in transparent boxes in parliamentary elections scheduled for November, the electoral commission decided on Monday.

“Transparent boxes will allow everyone to see what goes inside and this in every polling station and throughout the three-stage parliamentary elections,” the official Mena news agency reported.

The three rounds kick off on November 9 and end a month later.

The interior ministry gave its approval for transparent boxes to be used last week.

Egyptians had previously cast their ballots in wooden boxes.

A spokesperson for the National Campaign for Monitoring Elections (NCME) gave the new ballot boxes a lukewarm reception, saying they would not of themselves prevent irregularities.

“It is a positive development but not enough,” said the spokesperson, Said Darwish. “Rights groups must be able to monitor the elections but without permission from the National Human Rights Council.”

Independent oversight of polls vital

Justice minister Mahmud Abuleil issued an order a week ago allowing local NGOs to monitor the polls but insisted they get permission from the state-sponsored council.

The decision and an array of other conditions prompted rights groups to file suit against the electoral commission and Abuleil.

The Egyptian press reported that prospective monitors must also be impartial and non-partisan and should not be involved in any way in the elections.

Darwish said independent oversight of polling stations not the design of ballot boxes was the key to a fair election and unfortunately rights groups lacked the resources.

“We can’t deploy a sufficient number of monitors to oversee the count and insist that a judge be present in every polling station during this phase,” he said.


He also complained that candidates other than those affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) did not have access to up-to-date electoral registers ahead of polling day.

Mena quoted Abuleil as saying on Monday that “co-ordinating with the National Human Rights Council doesn’t prevent civic groups from applying for authorisation by the commission”.

But his latest statement is unlikely to dampen rights group criticism since the commission is closely linked to the state.

Monitors were allowed to monitor the September 7 presidential election but rights groups complained that their representatives were often denied access to polling stations or in some cases beaten up.

They also slammed widespread irregularities in the conduct of the election.



Irregularities mar Egypt polls

Cairo – Hundreds of independent Egyptian monitors reported a variety of irregularities during the country’s first contested presidential election on Wednesday and pinned the blamed mainly on supporters of incumbent Hosni Mubarak.

In statements obtained on Thursday by AFP, several civil society organisations who monitored the vote listed the different types of abuses that marred the polling.

Herewith a list of abuses compiled from reports by the Arab Centre for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, the Independent Committee for Monitoring Elections, Sawasya and the Egyptian Association for the Support of Democratic Development.

– More than 1 000 customs employees voted collectively for Mubarak in the Alexandria governorate. Similar cases were reported elsewhere in the country.

– The judge manning the Sadat school polling station in the southern town of Kaws left his post. Delegates from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) stuffed the ballot box with 470 votes for Mubarak.

– NDP delegates threatened to have voters arrested and their social benefits cut if they did not cast their ballot for Mubarak in the southern governorate of Beni Sueif.

– In Al-Buhayra area, public transport was used to ship villagers to polling stations. They were urged to vote for Mubarak.

– In the Mediterranean province of Port Said, NDP officials exercised pressure on voters inside polling stations.

– In Cairo’s Sayyeda Sakina school, an electoral official ticked the Mubarak box on the ballot for several illiterate voters.

– In Cairo’s Nasr City area, people carrying up-to-date voters cards were denied the right to vote because they did not produce an NDP card.

– Several polling stations across the country were not equipped with curtains and voters had to make their choice under the supervision of NDP delegates.

– Mubarak supporters actively campaigned all day inside and outside polling stations across the country. Pictures of Mubarak were even plastered on the walls inside some polling stations.

– Security forces and intelligence forces were seen inside polling stations where they had not been invited by the judge.

– Civil servants employed by the water authority were promised a free subscription at the administration’s club if they voted for Mubarak.

– The indelible ink in which voters were due to dip their finger to prevent double-voting was missing from several polling stations.


Mubarak jun to tighten grip


Cairo – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s younger son Gamal was expected to consolidate his influence on Thursday during the annual conference of the ruling party billed as a watershed in the regime.

The two-day assembly of the National Democratic Party kicked off with a speech from secretary-general Safwat al-Sherif, a symbol of the threatened old guard.

Gamal Mubarak, who masterminded his father’s victorious reelection campaign and leads the party’s younger and reformist camp, is expected to deliver an address later on Thursday.

The conference comes at a sensitive time, two days after Mubarak was sworn for a fifth term pledging sweeping reforms, and six weeks before crucial legislative elections.

The party will have to explain how it intends to fulfil the pharaonic promises made by Mubarak during his campaign for the country’s first pluralist presidential poll.

The 77-year-old president focused his campaign on pledges to create millions of jobs and raise wages that were deemed unrealistic by many opposition candidates and commentators.

Running the country in his father’s shadow

The conference should also witness intense jockeying as the list of candidates for the parliamentary polls is expected to be drafted and the party’s heavyweights vie for jobs in the next reshuffled cabinet.

President Mubarak is to give a keynote speech on Friday in which he is expected “to underline that the next phase will draw on the resources and talents of a younger generation,” the state-owned Al-Ahram Weekly said.

“The conference will not only consolidate the position of reformers within the party, but will see them emerge victorious,” said the newspaper.

The 41-year-old Gamal already chairs the party’s influential policies secretariat and is widely seen as running the country in his father’s shadow.

His new prominence has also fueled speculation that he was being groomed for succession, a scenario that has been met with virulent criticism from the opposition.

During Mubarak’s swearing-in ceremony in parliament Tuesday, opposition leader Ayman Nur had planned to interrupt the president as he took the oath to say Gamal should be taking it.

“I didn’t do it because I had security officers sitting around me in parliament. But while Mubarak was taking the oath, the man who really runs this country was watching from the balcony,” he said.


Egypt’s Mubarak sworn in

Cairo – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to deliver on pledges for reform when he was sworn in on Tuesday for a fifth term in office after sweeping to victory in the country’s first contested presidential poll.

“I will work with the utmost determination towards the implementation of the programme I proposed during the electoral campaign,” Mubarak said after declaring the oath of office in a ceremony in parliament.

“This is a historic day for Egypt which this building had not witnessed since its inauguration in 1924,” he said.

“This election was not the end, what is important now is to realise the aspirations of the people and march forward. We will do this with an unalterable determination to pursue reform.”

Canons were fired from the parliament compound after Mubarak was sworn in, marking the beginning of his fifth six-year term at the helm of the Arab world’s most populous country following the September 7 election.

Under pressure

Under pressure at home and abroad, the 77-year-old Mubarak, the region’s longest serving leader after Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, has pledged to embark on greater democratic reform.

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt under a state of emergency imposed after the 1981 assassination of his predecessor Anwar al-Sadat, swept to a landslide victory in the country’s first multi-candidate poll.

Official results gave Mubarak 88.5% of the vote, but low turnout meant that those who voted for the president represented less than nine percent of Egypt’s overall population.

“We will hold legislative elections in November which will complete the experience of the presidential election,” Mubarak said, vowing to “pursue democratisation and economic liberalisation.”

During a campaign which for the first time saw rivals and newspapers openly attacking his regime, Mubarak promised to lift the state of emergency and create more than four million jobs.

Even the reform that led to the opening up of the presidential contest was much criticised, with many candidates barred from standing while others refused to put anyone forward saying the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

After meeting Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on Monday, the newly-appointed United States undersecretary for public diplomacy, Karen Hughes, reminded Mubarak of his pledge to lift emergency laws.


Mubarak will pursue reform

Cairo – Egypt’s veteran president Hosni Mubarak has pledged to pursue political reforms after sweeping to a fifth term in office in an election widely criticised by his opponents.

“The true victory is the victory for democracy and pluralism,” Mubarak said in his first speech since his victory in Wednesday’s first contested presidential election in the most populous country of the Arab world.

“The pursuit of reforms is irrevocable,” he told members of his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Official results gave Mubarak 88.5% of the vote but put the turnout at only 23%, with the 6.3 million people who voted for the president representing just 8.6% of Egypt’s overall population.

Defeated candidates challenged the results, complaining of fraud and other electoral irregularities, in protests which were backed by local non-governmental organisations.

In the presence of his son Gamal, the initiator of a reformist wing within the NDP and seen as a possible successor, the president vowed “to build a modern society in a democratic country”.

He promised to combat unemployment – which official figures put at 10.5%, but double that according to international organisations – and create jobs in his new term running up until 2011.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 24 years under a state of emergency imposed after the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981.

But in the face of mounting international and domestic pressure for reform he agreed to a constitutional change allowing for contested presidential elections.


’Last Pharaoh’ on his knees

Cairo – Hosni Mubarak should still be Egypt’s president after September 7 but “the last Pharaoh” is not quite what he used to be after three weeks of a campaign that started chipping away at his sacred pedestal.

Only a few months ago, an unfortunate word on the “rais” – the boss – or the slightest hint of dissidence over the regime’s policies was a one-way ticket to jail.

But opposition leaders, activists, editorialists, cartoonists and even ordinary Egyptians on the street have sharpened their pencils and tongues and pierced the aura of untouchability surrounding the “father of the nation”.

“Will you please spare us the sight of your face,” wrote columnist Ibrahim Abdel Fattah in the independent Al-Dustour newspaper. “We want to know how it feels to see a new face because we have been looking at yours for 24 years,” he said.

Unprecedented election coverage

Mubarak is widely expected to win a fifth six-year term in the September 7 presidential election but Egypt’s 32 million voters will for the first time have a choice of another nine candidates.

While state-owned newspapers continued to dutifully offer fawning first-page coverage of Mubarak’s election campaign, the tone used in independent publications is unprecedented.

Dissidents attempted criticism of the regime or of specific policies in the past but rarely had anyone dared to publicly ridicule Mubarak and “the royal family”.

In recent weeks, independent newspapers have been rife with sarcastic comments about his wife Suzanne Mubarak’s “$200 hairdos” and corruption allegations against the rais’s son Gamal, whom many believe is being groomed for succession.

“This is not the country we used to know, this election is a circus, a cheap B movie,” editorialist Mohammed Hassan al-Alfy said in the independent Nahdet Masr newspaper.

Independent publications have also relayed the concerns of civil society organisations over the transparency of the election.

Emboldened Egyptians

Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political scientist at the Al-Ahram research centre, voiced his surprise at the atmosphere of the campaign.

“We experienced an exceptional moment in Egypt: people were able to directly attack the pharaoh like never before,” he said.

Mubarak’s most defiant campaign rival, Ghad party leader Ayman Nur, has unleashed a torrent of accusations against the president and his cronies. Even the more docile Wafd chairperson Numan Gumaa risked a few jibes.

“The significance of this election lies not in the possibility of unseating President Mubarak but in the fact that for the first time many Egyptians are boldly challenging his rule,” the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a report.