Egypt election derided as less free than fraudulent 2005 vote
The Egypt election for parliament today saw a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and complaints of more fraud than in 2005. Even secular opposition candidates found it tough going.
Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt
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Yes, officials admitted, the Muslim Brotherhood -- Egypt's most powerful opposition group -- had a number of candidates disqualified from their ballot, and their campaigns were dogged by police disruption. But officials said that was because religious political parties are banned under Egyptian law. All other challengers, they said, were welcome to take their best shot at the powerful NDP, the cornerstone of Mr. Mubarak's 29-year rule here.
Tell that to Gamila Ismail.
The secular, free market-friendly, and highly-telegenic Ms. Ismail -- she was a longtime television presenter -- would seem to come from NDP central casting for an "acceptable opposition figure." But the day before the election, 40 percent of her observers were told they wouldn't be able to monitor the voting, leaving many polling stations monitored from within only by representatives of her NDP opponent. For weeks, she's complained of vote buying by her opponent for the seat representing Cairo's strategic Qasr El Nil district.
And this morning, she found her number on the ballot had been switched form 18 to 14. Her campaign literature had reminded voters to pick "18," something crucial in a country where many voters are only partially literate, if at all.
“It’s very clear that there is rigging of votes, [that] there are violations,” says the former wife of Egyptian presidential candidate Ayman Nour, who was jailed after his 2005 run against Mubarak. “It’s chaotic and disorganized.”
Beatings and fraud
Across the Arab world's most populous country, there was a torrent of reports of electoral irregularities today, and Ms. Ismail's complaints are just a small part of the chorus.
In some districts, police physically drove opposition supporters away from the polls. In others, opposition candidates were beaten, and according to Egyptian news services, at least eight people died in political violence today.
The vast majority of Egyptian voters stayed away from the polls entirely, with independent observers saying turnout of below 20 percent wouldn't surprise them.
Same old tactics, says Ismail
Ismail said election day was simply a continuation of the tactics Egypt’s government has used in the run-up to the election, when it arrested and harassed opposition candidates, cracked down on independent media, and refused to allow international poll monitors.
A worn-looking Ismail, who said she hadn’t slept in 48 hours, visited the polling stations in her district, where she was thronged by children chanting her name. One polling station in her district was added at the last minute without her knowledge. When she visited the station early Sunday morning, she found it had already been closed – but supposedly 2,700 votes had already been cast.