Egyptian Islamists blame America for poll abuses

Egyptian Islamists blame America for poll abuses

  By Amil Khan
Young men prevented from voting in the slums of Egypt’s second city say U.S. support for their government has added to their mistrust of a country already deeply unpopular in the Arab world.

The United States, criticised by Arabs for invading Iraq and supporting Israel, says it favours greater democracy and respect for human rights in the Arab world but has delivered only mild protests about abuses in elections in Egypt, where Islamist candidates have eclipsed the secularists favoured in Washington.

When Egyptian riot police pushed youngsters away from polling stations in a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour at the weekend, youngsters picked up spent teargas canisters and found them marked “Made in USA”.

“Those dogs are fed and clothed by America,” said one of about 800 youths facing riot police who sealed off a polling station in Alexandria to stop Brotherhood supporters from voting in the second stage of Egypt’s parliamentary election.

The Brotherhood, which opposes U.S. policies in the Middle East, has so far won 76 of the 444 elected assembly seats and its tally could top 100 seats after the third and final stage, which starts on Thursday and ends on December 7.

The leaders of the Brotherhood acknowledge that U.S. pressure on the government has helped create conditions for the electoral gains that have made them the largest opposition force in the Egyptian parliament in over 50 years.

“The seats we have gained are the natural result of the political ferment which has happened in Egypt and the foreign pressures,” senior Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul Futouh told al-Araby newspaper. “This has made the government, against its will, expand the scope of freedom and reduce the rigging.”

But in the streets where the Brotherhood finds support, the United States is still seen as the power behind the government.

Rami, a government employee waiting to vote in Alexandria, said: “We are ruled by thugs who are supported by America … It is clear our government can only do what America wants and America doesn’t want the Brotherhood to take power here.”

Amir Salah, who gave up trying to vote after waiting an hour at an Alexandria polling booth, said: “America talks about democracy but all we get from them is torture and poverty.”

The U.S. State Department urged the government on Monday to clean up its elections and said reports that security forces had barred some people from voting and that election monitors had been harassed were “sources of serious concern”.   
It did not directly condemn the arrests of members of the Brotherhood, which is banned from becoming a political party.

The United States, Egypt’s largest trade partner and aid donor, supports the government’s ban on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Police have detained 1,610 Brotherhood members in the two days before the last stage of the parliamentary election, mostly in provinces where voting will take place on Thursday, a Brotherhood spokesman said on Wednesday.

Independent election monitors say police and ruling National Democratic Party officials directed gangs who attacked and threatened voters with swords and machetes in earlier stages.

U.S. officials initially urged Egypt to let international election monitors oversee the voting, but stopped pressing the demand publicly after the government said the presence of journalists and local monitoring groups would be sufficient.