Egyptian rights activists are raising strong concerns after the country's military rulers banned international observers for the first elections of the post-Mubarak era.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military junta that took over after President Hosni Mubarak was pushed out, said Wednesday that elections will be delayed to November, two months later than originally expected. International monitors will not be permitted on the grounds of national sovereignty, said Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shahin, the military council’s legislative adviser.
“This is a very terrible development,” says Bahey El Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “It was usual to hear this from the Mubarak regime because the elections were always fraudulent.”
But for the military to take the same position, citing the same excuse the Mubarak regime used, “raises serious questions about the credibility of the coming election,” he says.
A fair vote is vital to establishing both domestic and international trust in Egypt’s new government, and international monitors would be a natural way to ensure one, says Mr. Hassan. Election fraud was rife throughout the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule. Parliamentary elections held in November and December of last year were widely seen as some of the most fraudulent in Egypt’s modern history.
Mohamed Mahmoud, an Egyptian from the Nile Delta who is camped out in Cairo’s central Tahrir protesting the military rulers’ slow pace of reform, says he's suspicious about the ban on foreign observers.
“Why would they not allow the international observers unless they have something to hide?” he asks. “This should be our first free election in Egypt. But maybe they don’t want it to be free.”
Shahin said that Egyptian civil society organizations will be free to monitor the vote. The Mubarak regime said the same, but then went to great lengths to restrict those organizations’ efforts. Some activists wonder if they will experience a similar obstacles this fall, says Hassan.
“This raises questions of what they are looking to cover up,” he says. “Even Egyptians won't buy it because of their long experience with Mubarak.”
The parliament scheduled to be elected in the fall will be charged with forming a commission to write a new constitution, and presidential elections will come after that. The military has pledged to give up power after elections are held.
The announcement on international monitors came as the military laid out the new laws that will govern the election, which will take place in three stages. Half of the 504 parliamentary candidates will be elected individually, while the other half will be elected under a list system, in which parties receive seats proportionate to the percentage of the vote they received. A women’s quota instituted under Mubarak to ensure women's representation will be abolished, though every party list must include at least one woman. A nearly half-century old quota reserving half of the seats for farmers and workers was left in place.