Egypt cracks down on Muslim Brotherhood ahead of elections
Sunday's elections are shaping up to be less free than the last vote in 2005, when the Brotherhood tripled its seats in parliament. Today, 700 members are awaiting trial.
Arrests of more than 1,300 political activists, violent dispersals of opposition campaign events, and a reduction of independent poll monitoring all point to a landslide victory for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in this Sunday's parliamentary elections.Skip to next paragraph
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In a report out today, Human Rights Watch said a fair election is unlikely, pointing to "mass arbitrary arrests ... and widespread intimidation of opposition candidates."
Reformers had one piece of good news Wednesday – blogger Kareem Amer was released after four years in jail after being convicted for insulting President Mubarak and Islam. At the same time, however, the Egyptian journalist Youssef Shaaban was remanded to custody for a further 15 days in detention. He was picked up trying to cover a protest against a land developer in Alexandria.
But the travails of the Muslim Brotherhood – a banned Islamist political party whose activists technically run as independents – perhaps best show the extent to which the government seeks to ensure the outcome will be to its liking. More important, it could well be a foreshadowing of how the presidential election scheduled for next year will be conducted.
700 Muslim Brotherhood activists await trial
The vast majority of arrests so far have been of Brotherhood activists. While most have since been released, more than 700 are awaiting trial, since the government argues that political organizations with a religious perspective are illegal. The Brotherhood's most enduring motto is "Islam is the solution."
One senior government official who asked not to be named says the Brotherhood is "completely squeezed" and predicts the NDP will extend its 72 percent share of control in parliament that it secured in the 2005 poll. He denied, however, that repressive tactics will be responsible for a predicted weak Brotherhood showing – instead saying that he thinks Egyptians are simply more aware that the "the NDP's program is what the government needs."
The government outright disqualified a handful of Brotherhood candidates. While most were technically reinstated by court order, the movement says the government has still kept their names off the ballot.
MP Saad El-Katatni, who heads the Brotherhood bloc in Parliament, said at a press conference earlier this week that he and his supporters have been subject to police intimidation and been prevented from campaigning. The government "campaign is to terrorize people and prevent them from supporting Brotherhood candidates," he said.
Election monitors shut out
While Egypt almost never has truly free elections, all of this is a sharp departure from the start of the last parliamentary poll in 2005, at a time when the US – the largest source of foreign aid here – was pushing for democratic openings across the Arab world. "The repression and control is far more intense this time than it was in 2005," says Heba Morayef, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Cairo.