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In Alexandria, a quiet Egypt election, a weakened Muslim Brotherhood

After weeks of intimidation and a roundup of dozens of Muslim Brotherhood activists, the Egypt election is looking like a landslide for the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak

By Staff writer / November 28, 2010

A man rides a bike under ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) banners in Alexandria, November 26. Egypt's parliamentary election on Sunday is expected to produce a landslide victory for the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak.

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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Alexandria, Egypt

With the Egypt election underway, poll observers and democracy activists reported 150 opposition supporters arrested, clashes in the tough Nile delta town of Mansoura, and supporters of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood driven away from the polls in at least two poor Cairo districts that have turned out in force for the Islamist movement in past elections.

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But in Alexandria, where a swell of support for the Muslim Brotherhood helped the group triple its representation in parliament to about 20 percent in the 2005 election, the situation was mostly calm.

Lines for government-subsidized bread were longer than the trickle of people heading into polling stations in the tough Al-Raml district, where the Municipal Development Minister Abdul Salam Mahgoub, a loyalist of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), is running against the Brotherhood incumbent Sobhi Saleh, who said he was attacked by "thugs" when he tried to vote today and went briefly to an area hospital before leaving in the afternoon.

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The reason for relatively less volatile situation, say activists and average Alexandrians, is an effective round of repressive measures against the Brothers in the weeks before the vote, including the arrest of dozens of mid-level activists who are the link between the officially banned party's leadership (its members technically run for election as independents) and grass-roots supporters. And the alleged beating of Mr. Saleh -- who has run a strong campaign and is up against an NDP darling -- is being seen as an object lesson for others.

Muslim Brotherhood activists jailed

On Saturday, 15 Brotherhood activists were sentenced to two years in jail for the crime of using Islamic political slogans -- notwithstanding the fact that even candidates from the secular NDP have used Islamic references at campaign stops. Today, most of the Brotherhood's websites were blocked on Egyptian servers and activists blamed the government.

"When the outcome of an election seems virtually guaranteed before it starts, few people want to waste their time getting involved," says Ahmed Ali, who sells newspapers in dowtown Alexandria.

Mr. Ali didn't vote. While no Brotherhood supporter -- ''mixing religion and politics is bad for Egypt," he says -- he laces his references to the ruling NDP with curses and says he has some sympathy for the movement. "Maybe they would be a step to giving us freedom, which we aren't allowed now."

Elsewhere in Egypt, Brotherhood and other opposition candidates had tough going. A candidate of the secular Wafd Pary in Kafr El Dawar said three of his campaign aides were arrested.

Diplomatic tight-rope for the US

An Egyptian election that is shaping up to be a walkover for the NDP -- which holds about 70 percent of the current parliament -- and is being roundly panned by local and international NGOs as neither free nor fair, is a reminder of the diplomatic tight-rope that the US and the administration of President Obama walk with the Arab world's most populous country.

The US provides about $1 billion in aid to Egypt annually -- most of that to its military -- and sees it as a key partner in securing US regional ambitions.

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