Romance in Egypt is over

Romance in Egypt is over
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) – Police arrested 400 Muslim Brotherhood activists in a crackdown on the Islamist group which poses the strongest challenge to the ruling party in Egyptian legislative elections on Sunday.

Armed thugs also attacked Brotherhood supporters and blocked them from voting in the second stage of elections which will decide 144 seats in parliament, election monitoring groups said.

Brotherhood candidates doubled their strength in parliament in the first stage of the elections, winning 21 percent of the 164 seats contested and underlining the strength of political Islam as Egypt’s strongest opposition force. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won 68 percent of the seats.

The authorities had given the Brotherhood, banned since 1954, unprecedented leeway in the weeks leading up to the first stage. Leading Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian said the authorities had fallen back on their old ways.

“This indicates the lack of any intention by the government or the regime to meet the promises it made to make real political or constitutional changes,” he told Reuters.

Violence was limited in the first stage but spread on Sunday. Gangs, primarily made up of NDP supporters, controlled access to polling stations and threatened voters, the Independent Committee on Election Monitoring said.


A Brotherhood candidate’s representative was stabbed in the neck in a polling station in Edku on Egypt’s north coast, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) said.

Armed gangs were deployed in Brotherhood strongholds in the northern coastal city of Alexandria to stop voters entering polling stations, an EOHR monitor in the area said.

A gang of about 70 young men armed with swords, machetes and knives threw rocks at one polling station in Alexandria. Local residents hit back with stones.

Thugs trying to intimidate voters shot dead one man and stabbed another in Alexandria, medical sources said. The thugs who shot Mohamed Ibrahim also set fire to 20 cars, witnesses said. It was not clear for whom the thugs were working.

An Interior Ministry statement said disturbances in various constituencies had been caused “in the shadow of a high state of tension spread by candidates under Islamic slogans”.

The United States, which earlier this year called on Egypt to allow more political freedoms, has exerted little public pressure 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, whose candidates stand as independents to get round the ban on the party, says it wants more political freedom and fuller implementation of Islamic laws in Egypt.

Run-offs will be held on Saturday. The third and final stage of voting for 136 seats starts on December 1.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Cairo)