Police and thugs are source of violence
|Sunday, December 4,2005 00:00|
The final phase of the month-long elections kicked off with the Islamists on course to confirm their spectacular gains and reach the 100-seat mark and the ruling party determined to secure its two-thirds majority in parliament.
In the northern Nile Delta town of Baltim, a man identified as Gomaa al-Zeftawi was killed in clashes.
Medical sources and the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said he was a supporter of Nasserist leader Hamdeen Sabahi and was killed by police, who responded to stone-throwing with rubber bullets and eventually live rounds.
But the interior ministry said he was a supporter of the local candidate for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and was killed in clashes between his camp and Sabahi’s.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were out in force to vote for their 49 candidates competing across the country on Thursday, despite massive security deployments and a three-day campaign of arrests that netted more than 600.
The Islamist movement said most of those rounded up were campaign organisers in the various constituencies.
The interior ministry argued that the Brotherhood, while normally tolerated, was an illegal organisation and the crackdown could thus not be described as interference in the electoral process.
In the Nile Delta village of Bossad, voters of all ages and sexes could be seen climbing over walls with rickety wooden ladders to enter polling stations whose main entrances were blocked off by phalanxes of riot police.
Fires ignited by tear-gas grenades that landed on thatched roofs burned down three houses in the same village, near the city of Mansura, an AFP reporter said.
The same confusion and anger prevailed in Al-Adwa, a village near the city of Zagazig where the head of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary group, Mohammed Morsi, was contesting a seat.
"They don’t want anybody to vote for the Brothers," 36-year-old Omar Mohammed Ahmed said, as a crowd of angry would-be voters started building up in front of a school sealed off by some 150
police armed with tear-gas canisters.
Polling was due to have ended at 1700 GMT but some judges supervising polling stations insisted they would stay open until all those who wanted to vote had cast a ballot.
The respected judges’ syndicate has mounted an unprecedented challenge against the state, securing more guarantees of transparency, publicly denouncing irregularities in the previous rounds and threatening a mass walkout if police continued to obstruct the process.
The syndicate had vowed to post some of its members in the streets to ensure access to polling stations but their action appeared to have had little impact.
Brotherhood spokesman Issam al-Aryan predicted that the security crackdown would backfire. "The Brotherhood will only benefit more from the protest vote," he told AFP.
Campaigning under the slogan "Islam is the solution", the movement founded in 1928 made major gains in the first two phases of the election, winning 76 seats, already five times their tally in the outgoing parliament.
With a success rate hovering around 70 percent, the Brotherhood could reasonably hope to reach the symbolic 100 mark as it was fielding a total of 49 candidates in the 68 constituencies taking part in Thursday’s voting.
Although its dominance of the People’s Assembly was not at risk, President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP will have to secure close to 100 more seats in order to retain the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution and pass emergency laws.
The violations reported by opposition parties, journalists and independent monitors in last week’s second phase runoffs prompted expressions of concern from the regime’s US ally.
"The Egyptian government has a responsibility to provide an atmosphere for its people in which they can feel as though they are not encumbered, they are not barred from or under the threat of violence or coercion," the State Department said Wednesday.
Any runoffs will be held next Wednesday. Re-runs are also due to be held at a later date in three constituencies where irregularities were reported in the elections’ second phase.