US Blasts Egypt Over Poll’s “Wrong Message”

US Blasts Egypt Over Poll’s “Wrong Message”

Ereli said Washington viewed these actions “as inconsistent with the government of Egypt’s professed commitment to increase the political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society.” 
– The United States has expressed serious concern over abuses in Egypt’s parliamentary elections and said its key Middle East ally was sending the “wrong signal” about its commitment to democracy.

In a marked shift from last week, deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli cited violence and other “disturbing” actions by Egyptian authorities.

“We’ve also seen a number of developments over the past couple of weeks during the parliamentary elections that raise serious concerns about the path of political reform in Egypt,” Ereli said Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Egyptians began voting Wednesday, December 7, in the last round of the month-long parliamentary election that saw the Muslim Brotherhood emerging as the main serious challenge to the ruling National democratic Party (NDP).

Egypt’s parliamentary polls kicked off Wednesday, November 9, and was marred by widespread violence, claims of fraud, complaints by the judges monitoring the poll, reports of police intimidating voters away from casting their ballots and detaining large numbers of MB activists.

“Clearly these actions send the wrong signal about Egypt’s commitment to democracy and freedom,” the spokesman said, adding that US officials had made “numerous” representations to President Hosni Mubarak’s government.

Ereli’s tone contrasted sharply with that of department spokesman Sean McCormack, who complained last week of strong-arm tactics by Cairo but called the elections “an important step on Egypt’s path toward democratic reform.”

Officials said Washington’s unhappiness had been growing amid reports of clashes, arrests of opposition members, physical abuse of election monitors and journalists, and moves to bar observers and voters from polling places.

Ereli said Washington viewed these actions “as inconsistent with the government of Egypt’s professed commitment to increase the political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society.”

Nur’s Arrest

US officials appeared particularly piqued by a new court order Monday jailing opposition Al-Ghad Party’s leader Ayman Nur for five days pending the next hearing of his trial on charges of forging affidavits to register his political party.

“The arrest of Nur is kind of the frosting on the cake, the cherry on the top of the sundae,” one senior official, who asked not to be named, told AFP. He said Washington had warned Cairo against the move but to no avail.

Ereli said the Americans would keep a close eye on Nur’s case when the trial resumes Saturday.

“We would call upon the government of Egypt to make every effort to ensure that this trial conforms to international standards,” he said.

The United States, which gives Egypt nearly two billion dollars a year in military and economic aid, has been treading a delicate line between cajoling and encouraging Cairo to open up its political process.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dressed down her Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit and put off a planned visit to Cairo in March to show her displeasure over Nur’s initial jailing.

But she and other US officials rejoiced when Mubarak amended the Egyptian constitution to allow other candidates to contest his re-election bid in September, with Nur the most prominent among them.

Ereli said that despite the United States’s disappointment with the unfolding of the parliamentary elections, Egypt had made overall progress moving towards democracy this year.

And he signaled no US readiness to take action against Egypt for its shortcomings, saying only that the more Egypt pursued political reform the deeper the relationship with Washington would become.

“That doesn’t mean to say that if there are problems and things are slow or things take awhile, that that’s going to hurt the bilateral relationship,” Ereli added.


Meanwhile, hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo Tuesday to denounce assaults by security forces against journalists covering the parliamentary elections.

“The officer is a partner of the thug,” read placards carried by some 300 to 500 protesters.

The demonstrators included members of the pro-reform Kefaya (Enough) movement, which has spearheaded demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak in recent months.

“Down, down, Mubarak,” they chanted. “An assault on journalists is also an assault on our dignity,” proclaimed the banners.

The protestors also accused Mubarak’s ruling party of foul play.

Security forces kept a low profile and made no attempt to disperse the crowd.

Many journalists complained they were roughed up by police and thugs during the previous rounds of the elections.

Asmaa Mohamed Ali, a journalist working for the Nasserite Al-Karama newspaper, told IOL that she was snatched by apparently hired thugs while covering the run-off of the bloody second round on November 26.

Egyptian judges on December 4, called Mubarak to sack the minister of interior for police attacks on their peers during the first round of the third and last phase of the parliamentary elections.