Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters protested outside vote counting stations, scuffling with police and denouncing what they called widespread fraud in Egypt’s parliament elections as the government appeared to be determined to ensure its monopoly on the legislature in uncertain political times.
The protests in Cairo and in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria capped a day of voting in which many independent monitors were barred from polling stations amid reports of ballot box stuffing and vote buying. In some places, government candidates were seen passing out cash and food to voters near polling stations.
Overhanging Sunday’s parliamentary vote was the more significant presidential election set for next year. For the first time in nearly 30 years, there are questions over the presidential vote. The 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has had health issues, undergoing surgery earlier this year. His party says he will run for another six—year term, but that hasn’t resolved the speculation over the future of the country’s leadership.
Fuelling the sense of unease, Egyptians the past year have grown increasingly vocal in their anger over high prices, low wages, persistent unemployment and poor services despite economic growth that has fuelled a boom for the upper classes.
Amid the uncertainty, opponents say the ruling party in this top U.S. ally aims to sweep parliament almost completely to prevent any future platform for dissent. In the run—up to Sunday’s voting, at least 1,200 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling party’s only real rival, were arrested and many of its candidates saw their campaign rallies broken up repeatedly.
In the last parliamentary election, in 2005, the Brotherhood stunned the government by winning a fifth of the legislature, its strongest showing ever.
Sunday’s voting saw sporadic violence, police fired tear gas in one southern Cairo district after police shut down a polling station, and in the southern city of Qena, Brotherhood supporters threw firebombs at police who barred them from voting.
But a heavy presence of security forces, along with gangs of intimidating young men hanging around outside polling stations, seemed to scare off most opposition supporters. Only a trickle of voters, far less than in 2005, was seen throughout the day at most Cairo and Alexandria polls.
“People are scared to leave their homes. Anyone is afraid of the thugs,” said Abeer Fathi, a 32—year old housewife in Cairo who nonetheless was able to vote for her Brotherhood candidate. “The authorities are reassured because they know people won’t turn up after they scared them ahead of the vote.”
After polls closed on Sunday evening, Brotherhood supporters massed outside several stations where votes were being counted. In Alexandria, around 800 chanted “no to fraud” outside a police station, facing off with several hundred riot police and truckloads of civilians touting long sticks. Brief scuffles broke out, though some Brotherhood supporters tried to pull their colleagues out of any fighting.
At a press conference election commission spokesman Sameh el—Kashef shrugged off accusations of fraud as “not worthy of comment.”
“The Egyptians today have used their democratic right,” he said, saying “a few violations” were dealt with.
Throughout the day, independent monitors from human rights groups and candidate representatives were barred from entering many polling stations, leaving only low—level officials from the government—run election committee and police to supervise the voting. Under constitutional amendments passed in 2007, independent judges who once acted as monitors no longer observe the vote.
In some places visited by The Associated Press, violations appeared to take place openly.
“The security is running the show,” said Hosny Ragab, a monitor who told the AP he was ordered out of a polling centre at Alexandria’s al—Raml district despite having accreditation from the election commission.
Keywords: Egypt elections