Egypt election marathon winds up
Muslim Brotherhood accuses regime of seeking to curb its gains in final stages of dragged out electoral process.
By Jean-Marc Mojon - CAIRO
Egypt’s month-long parliamentary elections are due to wind up Wednesday, amid fears of more violence in the final round as security forces continue to round up supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
With two phases of polling completed, the Islamist movement has already increased its seat tally fivefold with 76 MPs and could reach the 100-mark in Wednesday’s third stage runoffs.
But the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP’s) dominance of parliament is not at risk, nor is its two-thirds majority needed to pass constitutional amendments and emergency laws.
Hosni Mubarak’s NDP and affiliated independents have already won around half of the 444 seats up for grabs in the elections ahead of Wednesday’s 127 runoffs.
The Muslim Brotherhood has complained that last Thursday’s first round of the final phase was rigged, as it won no seats outright. Thirty-five of its candidates are involved in runoffs.
It has also accused the regime of seeking to curb its gains in the final stages of the dragged out electoral process by stepping up its campaign of arrests of Brotherhood supporters and campaign activists.
"The NDP completely panicked, they could not tolerate the 34 seats we won in the first phase," the Islamist movement’s number two Mohammed Habib said at a press conference Monday.
"Throughout the legislative elections, the NDP has done everything it could to curb the gains of the Muslim Brothers," he said.
According to the Islamist movement, a total of more than 1,300 Brotherhood supporters have been detained since the polls kicked off on November 9. Around 80 of them were nabbed since Monday.
Violence broke out in several of the nine governorates voting in the third phase last week, with security forces blocking access to polling stations and clashing with frustrated voters.
A man was shot dead by police in clashes in the northern coastal town of Baltim, according to independent monitors and medical sources.
Opposition parties, independent civil society organisations and judges monitoring the polling process pointed to widespread irregularities, charging that voter registries were tampered with and the count fixed.
The elections witnessed the general demise of the secular opposition, as symbolised by Ghad party leader Ayman Nur, who lost his seat in his Cairo stronghold during the first round and is now waiting behind bars for sentencing in his forgery trial.
Despite the Brotherhood’s spectacular gains, many of the movement’s most prominent figures were also denied victory in the elections.
The troubled electoral process has also led to the emergence of timid dissent within the ranks of the NDP, with one member of the powerful politburo openly criticising the regime and the conduct of the polls.
Egypt’s US ally has voiced its concern over the violence but was measured in its latest statement.
"I think that we have not received, at this point, any indication that the Egyptian government isn’t interested in having peaceful, free and fair elections," US State department spokesman Sean McCormack said on December 1.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch lashed out at the statement and accused the US administration of reneging on its policies of democratisation in the Middle East by turning a blind eye to the violations in Egypt’s polls.
The surprise results of the Brotherhood have boosted the officially banned movement’s case for legalisation as a party, an option which has so far been consistently rejected by both the Cairo regime and Washington.