Hundreds arrested as Egyptians vote,DAMANHOUR

Hundreds arrested as Egyptians vote

By Amil Khan

DAMANHOUR, Egypt (Reuters) – Police arrested hundreds of activists from Egypt’s strongest opposition group and thugs trying to intimidate voters shot dead a man in legislative elections on Sunday.

The thugs shot Mohamed Ibrahim in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and set fire to 20 cars, witnesses and a medical source said. A hospital source said an independent candidate in Alexandria was stabbed in the stomach.

It was not clear for whom the thugs were working.

Monitoring groups reported widespread use of armed gangs by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to intimidate voters in the second stage of voting for parliament.

Thugs attacked supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest opposition force in Egypt, they said. The police arrested 400 Brotherhood activists late on Saturday and on Sunday, a security source said.

Brotherhood candidates more than doubled their strength in parliament in the first stage of the elections earlier this month by winning 21 percent of the 164 seats contested. The NDP won 68 percent. First-stage violence was limited.

But the Independent Committee on Election Monitoring (ICEM), one of several groups watching the polls more closely than ever, said violence had increased in the second stage.

“Observers have reported that organised teams of thugs, primarily NDP supporters, are engaging in criminal activities such as threatening and preventing voters from accessing polling stations,” it said.

Monitoring group Sawasya said in Alexandria gangs, under police supervision, had used sticks, knives and police dogs to “terrorise” voters and supporters of Brotherhood candidate Tawakol Masoud.


Thugs also smashed shop windows in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour, where prominent Brotherhood candidate Gamal Heshmat is standing, locals said.

“They were sent by the NDP. They know the entire area is with Heshmat. They are trying to scare people from voting,” market trader Mohamed Ibrahim said.

The government had given the Brotherhood, banned since 1954, unprecedented leeway in the first stage.

Deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib said the arrests indicated that police had abandoned their neutrality.

“It is clear that a type of retreat in the neutrality of the security apparatus has begun,” he said. He expected Brotherhood candidates to win no more than 20 of the 60 seats they are contesting in the second round, which decides 144 places.

Monitoring groups complained of the registration of state employees en masse to vote illegally in the first round in areas where they do not live. They were bussed to polling stations to boost support for NDP candidates, they say.

Bribery of voters has also been widespread, they say.

The United States, which earlier this year called on Egypt to allow more political freedoms, has exerted little public pressure on the government to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections.

Washington supports Egypt’s ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The Brotherhood says it wants to bring legislation into line with Islamic laws and work for more political freedoms in the Arab world’s most populous country, ruled by President Hosni Mubarak since 1981.

Voting on Sunday takes place in the Nile Delta and the cities of Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Alexandria, Qena and the oasis province of Fayoum southwest of Cairo.

Run-offs will be held on Saturday. The third and final stage of voting starts on December 1.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Cairo)