Egyptian vote marred by violence
During a referendum on election laws Wednesday, democracy activists were jailed and harassed.
(Page 2 of 2)
Shortly after Wasili finished his interview, the same pro-Mubarak group arrived at the press syndicate, in a fleet of minibuses. Kept back from the men and women of Kifaya at first by the riot police, the pro-Mubarak gang was eventually allowed through. The heated chanting from both sides quickly evolved into a melee.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The extent of the crackdown in Egypt now poses a challenge for the US, which says it wants fast political change in the Middle East but is also a staunch ally of Mubarak's Egypt, which made peace with Israel more than 20 years ago and has received about $2 billion in US aid a year ever since.
Wednesday, Kifaya members were dragged into the crowds of the Mubarak supporters, and beaten badly about the face and kicked repeatedly when they fell to the ground. But the Mubarak supporters' fury seemed to be especially focused on women, a number of whom were spat on, dragged by their hair to the ground, and repeatedly kicked.
In one instance, Kifaya member Ragab Mahdi, a young woman, was trapped against the grate for an underground garage with a few other members of her group with riot police between her and the pro-Mubarak men.
As the riot police began to move aside to allow her attackers through, Ms. Mahdi screamed, "What are you doing, they're going to kill us."
An Egyptian journalist off to the side urged the police to intervene. But one officer told him, "Our orders are to allow this to happen." After the Mubarak supporters beat Mahdi for a few minutes, older men in suits working with the attackers told them to back off. Her clothes torn and her body bruised, she was bundled into a taxi and taken to safety.
Turnout for the referendum was light, with no lines at polling places. But even with opposition groups urging a boycott, the majority of Egyptians are apathetic about the political process, which has never allowed for real opposition, and the amendment seemed certain to pass.
At the Saidia School in Cairo's Giza district, a trickle of voters filtered in under a huge yellow banner that said "Yes to honest elections." It had been placed there "with the compliments of Mohammed Abu Naim."
Mr. Naim is a member of the ruling National Democratic Party policy committee headed by President Mubarak's son, Gamal.
The younger Mubarak is often touted as his father's successor and has been behind most of Egypt's recent political and economic reforms. The streets around the polling place were festooned with banners of support for Mubarak, many of the signs were sponsored by state-owned companies. "Our 14,000 employees say yes to Hosni,'' was a typical example.
Saifa Abdul Aziz, an accountant for a government-run veterinary school, says she voted in favor of the amendment. "I don't really know what this is about but I feel it's a yes to Hosni Mubarak. He's a national hero."
Asked if she thought the referendum was enough change for Egypt, she looked over her shoulder at the plain-clothes security man listening to the interview. "Well, no. It's not enough but I don't want to say more. You don't want me to get in trouble, do you?"