Egypt’s Opposition: Blocked From Polls

Egypt’s Opposition: Blocked From Polls

Egypt”s largest opposition group accused the government of sharply curbing its chances in upcoming local elections by allowing only 60 of its 10,000 potential candidates to register amid an ongoing crackdown against the group.

Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood”s parliamentary bloc, said police in many areas of the country had blocked its members from entering official buildings to register for the April 8 polling.

“The Brotherhood were ready to register in all the local councils,” he told reporters in front of parliament. Nearby, two dozen riot police deployed to the building.

El-Katatni said that “700 of the group”s potential candidates have been seized from their homes by police” since February.

Police confirmed the arrests but said that only some of those detained were Brotherhood members hoping to run for seats in the 4,500 municipal councils nationwide that manage local utilities and resources in Egypt.

The Brotherhood, an Islamist group and the largest opposition bloc in parliament, has been banned in Egypt since 1954, but the government has not completely shut down the Brotherhood”s activities.

Authorities have prevented the Brotherhood from forming a political party, so its members run as independents in local and national elections. Brotherhood officials said Monday that registration centers across the country have blocked their candidates by refusing to accept applications from people who run as independents.

The deadline for registration is Thursday, the group said.

Local councils have long been dominated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak”s National Democratic party. Largely ignored in the past, the councils gained new importance after a constitutional amendment was passed in 2005 requiring presidential candidates to obtain endorsements from 250 parliament and local councils members to run.

El-Katatni read a statement Monday signed by 100 lawmakers that accused the government of dictatorship and corruption, saying elections in Egypt had become like “a boogieman that frightens the government and makes it respond with actions that are not to be practiced but in the most dictatorial and corrupt regimes.”

The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where the 79-year-old Mubarak has led an authoritarian government for a quarter century. The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country.

The Brotherhood did surprisingly well in the 2005 legislative elections, winning 88 seats in the 454-member parliament. The government then postponed 2006 municipal elections for two years, apparently out of fear of more Brotherhood gains.

On Sunday, more than 6,000 Brotherhood supporters demonstrated in two Egyptian cities, Tanta and Alexandria, protesting the crackdown and the arrests targeting the group”s leaders.