Egypt’s month-long parliamentary elections resumed on Saturday amid fears of more violent clashes and allegations of state interference in the polling process against the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.
Judges said they briefly closed several polling stations and suspended voting in several polling stations after state security forces prevented voters from casting their ballots.
Despite a new wave of arrests ahead of the latest round of polling, the Muslim Brotherhood, the officially banned but tolerated Islamist group, said it is determined to continue its unprecedented surge.
The first round of the second phase, which took place in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and other Islamist strongholds in the Nile Delta region last Sunday, saw a surge in violence that saw one person killed.
According to reporters and independent monitors, thugs hired by President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) blocked access to polling stations and confronted Islamist supporters with truncheons and machetes.
Large security contingents were deployed across the nine governorates where voting for the second phase’s 121 undecided seats was taking place on Saturday.
”The NDP is determined to win two-thirds of parliamentary seats and will do so by hook or by crook. This being the case, we can expect further violence and chaos in the next stage of the elections,” commentator Salama Ahmed Salama said in the state-owned al-Ahram Weekly.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Issam al-Aryan said security forces have arrested at least 160 supporters of the movement since Friday, including many campaign organisers.
”Hot elections but without brotherhood violence,” was the headline of the state-owned daily al-Gomhurriya, praising the latest arrests as a ”slap to the banned group”.
The NDP only garnered eight seats while the outlawed Islamist movement won 13 outright, bringing its tally halfway through the polls to 47, trebling the number of MPs it had in the outgoing Parliament.
The regime has repeated blamed the Islamists for the violence. NDP chief Safwat al-Sherif was quoted in the state-owned Akhbar al-Yom on Saturday as denouncing ”the use of religion” in the election.
The country’s respected judges’ syndicate was in combative mood since the last week’s irregularities and cancelled the vote in several constituencies in the Baheira governorate on Saturday.
”Police are besieging polling stations and preventing voters from entering in several places” in Baheira, Alexandria and Port Said, said Hisham Bastawisi, vice-president of the cassation court and a member of the committee set up by the judges for the elections.
”State security officers verbally attacked judges who tried to intervene to allow voters to enter polling stations … Judges have already closed polling stations and cancelled the elections in Rashid and Kafr al-Dawar,” he said.
The judges later decided to resume the polling process, but vowed to keep the stations open until all voters had cast a ballot.
The irregularities come on the heels of a movement by the judges, who massively back an initiative by a female member of the syndicate who publicly denounced rigging in Damanhur last week.
Noha al-Zeini, vice-president of the administrative court, explained in an open letter published by the independent daily al-Masri al-Yom that the local Brotherhood candidate had been stripped of his victory over the NDP candidate.
The NDP’s dominance in Parliament is not at risk, but the seemingly inexorable rise of the Brotherhood has thrown the issue of its legalisation as a party wide open.
The secular regime, backed by the United States, has consistently ruled out this option.
The third and last phase of the parliamentary elections will kick off on December 1, with run-offs to be held six days later. — Sapa-AFP