Volunteers go hi-tech to map Egypt election irregularities
President Hosni Mubarak's regime has rejected US calls to allow foreign observers at Egypt elections this weekend. But volunteers, armed with innovative software, are undeterred.
On the eve of Egypt's parliamentary elections this weekend, President Hosni Mubarak's regime has further tightened its control of the process as the country braces for a succession battle as early as next year.Skip to next paragraph
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Over the weekend, the government arrested more than 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group, which had already seen hundreds imprisoned. It has rejected US calls for international election monitors, and in recent weeks has cracked down on independent news broadcasts that could have brought greater transparency.
All this has opposition figures and independent analysts predicting that the Nov. 28 election – held to decide the 518 members of Egypt's lower house of parliament – will be even less free and fair than the previous one, in 2005.
"Unfortunately most of the indications are very terrible, very negative, very worrying, especially the fight which has been launched against the independent media," says Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
While that bodes ill for Mr. Mubarak's promise that the election will be clean, a group of bloggers and activists are using the Internet, cellphones, and citizen engagement to create a monitoring process they predict will expose government misbehavior.
How Twitter could tweak the election scene
The website U-Shahid.org, which means "you are a witness," will plot reports of election irregularities on an interactive map of Egypt. Citizens can submit reports via text message, Twitter, or e-mail, along with photo or video verification. The effort's organizers hope it will push regular citizens toward political participation.
"We think it's a new tool for election monitoring that will attract more people to participate," says Esraa Abdel Fattah, a project organizer and activist who was arrested after she used a social-networking site to help organize a national strike in 2008. "We want them to feel there is something happening in Egypt. They should participate and they should see there is something illegal going on. This election is window dressing to say to the world that we have elections and democracy in Egypt. But we have no democracy. It's fake."
The project – which is indirectly funded by the United States – is rallying young Egyptians to the cause and hopes to create a new generation of democracy activists.