Egyptian elections marred by arrests, voting disruption

Egyptian elections marred by arrests, voting disruption
Cairo – Egypt’s opposition Moslem Brotherhood said Saturday that 628 of its members were arrested as parliamentary polls continued in the country amidst complaints of security intervention and violence.

The detained members of the brotherhood, an officially banned but tolerated organization, were taken into custody at their homes, on their way to polling stations or outside them, said group sources, as the run-off in the second round of Egypt’s elections was held Saturday. Security sources put the figure at 150 detainees.

A Ministry of Interior statement said that all those arrested Saturday were ’preparing to use violence to intimidate voters at various polling stations’ or had thrown stones at police forces. It said that five officers were wounded and three police vehicles damaged in the stone-throwing incidents.

Although the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was widely expected to maintain its significant majority in polling, which began earlier this month, the Moslem Brotherhood has emerged as their main challenger.

According to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in statements reported by the state-owned press Saturday, the NDP has won 70 per cent of seats so far.

The Moslem Brotherhood has so far won 47 seats out of a total of 444 elected seats in the People’s Assembly up for grabs in the three- phase elections that wrap up December 1 and 7. Its results far outstrip those it achieved in the last parliamentary polls when it won 17 seats.

Based on reports from several judges and non-governmental legal and human rights organizations, the irregularities Saturday, as polling went ahead in nine governorates, appeared similar to those in the last parliamentary elections, in 2000.

The 2000 polls, like those of this month, went relatively smoothly during the first phase. Subsequent stages saw extensive security intervention, particularly against supporters of the brotherhood.

Nonetheless, there were no deaths reported, in contrast to the first day of balloting in the second phase of the elections on November 20, when one person died of knife wounds sustained while trying to break up a fight between supporters of opposing candidates.

The Judges Club, a professional association of jurists, said it had received reports that voters in six governorates were prevented by security forces from entering stations to cast ballots even though the judges asked security to allow them to enter.

A statement by the Ministry of Interior, responding to media reports, said ’all measures undertaken by police forces were characterized by neutrality and non-partisanship’.

The judges’ statement also said that voter lists had been tampered with by removing names, in some cases as many as half of those registered on a particular list.

Earlier statements by judicial sources said that several ballot boxes had been destroyed by unknown assailants.

The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), one of dozens of non-governmental organizations monitoring the elections, reported several incidents in which voters were prevented from entering polling stations to cast ballots.

The ACIJLP, and a statement from security sources that was run by the official Egyptian news agency MENA, both reported that security forces dispersed voters outside a polling centre in the city of Tanta by using tear gas.

Similar incidents were reported from the southern governorate of Qena, where a security cordon at one station allegedly prevented Moslem Brotherhood supporters from casting ballots.

The Independent Committee on Election Monitoring (ICEM), a coalition of 16 non-governmental organizations that deployed 5,000 observers, said Saturday in a statement that several of its monitors were threatened with physical violence ahead of the polling.

The ICEM said that people it alleged were affiliated to the ruling party beat up three of its observers, two in Ismaliya, along the shores of the Suez Canal, and one in the southern governorate of Qena.

Polling closes at 7:00 pm local time (1700 GMT). Official results were expected Monday or Tuesday.