Egyptian Police Prevent Polling in Village

 – Riot police cordoned off polling stations  
in this Nile Delta village Thursday to prevent people from voting as
Egypt entered the final round of legislative elections that have
been marred by violence and allegations of fraud.
        The ability to vote varied from town to town among the nine  
provinces where polling took place, but the use of police to stop
people from voting in this northern village or to deter them from
voting in some southern villages appeared to show that the
government had gone back on its promise of free and fair elections.
        “I’m calling on his excellency, the president, to  
appoint the members of parliament because no one has been allowed to
vote,” Sameer Fikri, a voter, said sarcastically. “It
would save the money wasted on elections.”
        Under U.S. pressure to make Egypt democratic, President  
Hosni Mubarak had granted the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest
Islamic party, considerable leeway to campaign in the early stages
of the elections, but the state appeared to intervene after the
group did far better than anyone had expected.
        Fikri, 50, an electrician, was one of dozens of people who  
waited patiently in front of lines of riot police, armed with
sticks, rifles and tear gas launchers, in Sandoub, 75 miles north of
        A police lieutenant said “I don’t know” when asked  
why both polling stations in the village had been cordoned off. An
Associated Press reporter was not allowed in the polling station to
ask officials there despite having the required election press pass.
        One reason could be that Sandoub is the hometown of Saber  
Zaher, a favored candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has
proved to be the pacesetter for change in the staggered elections.
In the two earlier rounds of polling this month, Brotherhood-backed
candidates won 76 seats in the 454-seat parliament, more than five
times its representation in the outgoing assembly.
        Its success appears to have led directly to the upsurge in  
violence and interference in last week’s voting in the second round
        More than 500 Brotherhood supporters were arrested earlier  
this week, the police have said. About 1,300 Brotherhood loyalists
are believed to have been arrested since polling began on Nov. 9.
Many have been released but hundreds are still in custody.
        Voting was light but completely unhindered in the Nile Delta  
city of Zagazig on Thursday. Voters walked into adjacent schools
turned into polling stations – one for men, one for women – in the
city’s Nahal district, where the outspoken Muslim Brotherhood
legislator Mohammed Morsi is standing for re-election.
        In Tahta, 280 kilometers south of Cairo, an estimated 500  
police officers were stationed on roads leading to the polling
station in the town’s School of Commerce. Voters were not denied
access, but some said they feared the police.
        “I don’t know whether I should vote now or come back  
later,” said one voter, Ahmed Mohammed Abdel Salam, who
supported the Muslim Brotherhood. “I heard that the police have
arrested so many people, especially those who vote for
        Police were also deployed in huge numbers in Shatoura, about  
five miles from Tahta.
        When The Associated Press asked a senior police officer  
about the deployment, he replied: “We fear clashes breaking out
between the supporters of candidates.”
        More than 10 million Egyptians were eligible to vote in the  
final round, where the last 136 parliamentary seats were being
contested by 1,774 candidates.
        The Brotherhood, which has campaigned under the slogan  
“Islam is the solution,” has been banned since 1954. But
it has long been tolerated, and it circumvents its prohibition from
the elections by fielding “independent” candidates whose
allegiance to the Brotherhood is known to voters.
        The first-round vote and run-off passed with little  
violence, but the extraordinary showing by the Brotherhood led to a
government crackdown. In the second round and run-offs, police
blocked Brotherhood supporters from some polling stations and
pro-government supporters assaulted perceived Brotherhood voters at
other stations.
        At some polling places, police fired tear gas and rubber  
bullets to discourage voters in the second round. At least one
person has been killed in polling violence.
        Independent election monitors and Egyptian human rights  
organizations have been highly critical of what they call
regime-sponsored violence.
        The Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without  
Borders, has condemned government-inspired violence and harassment,
and Amnesty International has expressed concern over the second
round mayhem.
        Going into the last round of voting, 302 seats have been  
decided, and judges threw out results or canceled voting for 6 seats
because of violence or irregularities. The NDP has won 201 seats,
the Brotherhood has 76 and other independent or opposition
candidates have taken 25.