Out in force

Hosni Mubarak’s party machine put on an overwhelming display of organisational strength this week as Egyptians voted in the country’s first contested presidential election.

The 77-year-old president, who has ruled Egypt under a state of emergency for the last 24 years and is seeking another six-year term, went into battle against nine opponents, whose party organisations were mainly invisible as voting took place.

At a polling station in the Agouza district of Cairo, a dozen members of the Mubarak Youth were on hand to assist voters. The president’s National Democratic Party had set up a “guidance’’ stall near the entrance that was decorated with pro-Mubarak posters and staffed by three women in “Yes to Mubarak’’ T-shirts. The women checked voters’ names against the register before issuing them with a slip carrying the president’s photograph and indicating which room they should vote in.
A party official said the system, was intended “to ease the flow of voters’‘.

At another polling station in central Cairo about 50 children and teenagers dressed in Mubarak T-shirts and waving Egyptian flags chanted “Hosni we love you’’ as party officials issued them with soft drinks.

Even in the constituency of Ayman Nour—regarded as one of the two main opposition candidates—the streets were swamped with Mubarak banners and several loudspeaker vans drove back and forth past the polling station urging people to vote for the incumbent.

In Cairo’s main square, where a giant Mubarak poster had been erected overnight despite the official end of campaigning two days earlier, hundreds of supporters of the Kifaya (Enough) movement staged an illegal demonstration. The protesters later marched through the city centre watched by police, while riot police vans were tucked away in side streets and behind builders’ hoardings.

During a similar demonstration in May protesters were beaten and at least one woman was sexually molested.

There were several reports of minor scuffles. Outside the journalists’ union a Mubarak float was chased by Kifaya supporters and men on the float lashed out at them with sticks.

At Alexandria, in the north, two women interviewed by an Associated Press reporter said an NDP official had brought them to the polls in a bus and given them voting cards, even though neither had ever registered. One said the party had promised her food, oil and sugar if she voted.—Â

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