Islamists cry foul over Egypt vote

Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood cried foul on Friday after a slump in its performance in the latest round of parliamentary polls, which were marred by violence and widespread voter obstruction.

None of its 49 candidates involved in the third and final phase of voting had won outright, compared with 13 in the second stage, although 35 will be contesting run-offs on Wednesday.

According to partial and unofficial results, 10 ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) candidates won a majority of the vote at their first attempt, and one from the liberal Wafd party.

“The fact that no Muslim Brother won in the first round is the result of the fact that voters were prevented from voting and that the ministry of justice assigns notoriously dubious judges to the tallying centres,” Brotherhood spokesperson Issam al-Aryan said.

On the fifth day of voting in Egypt’s month-long elections, phalanxes of riot police sealed off polling stations, preventing voters from casting their ballots, mainly in Nile Delta Islamist strongholds.

Tear gas was widely used by the security forces to repel angry demonstrators, but in some areas voters managed to squeeze into polling stations by climbing over walls with rickety wooden ladders.

The most violent clashes, however, broke out in the coastal town of Baltim between NDP supporters and those of Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the Nasserist Karama party.

One person was killed in the fight, but while medical sources and an independent monitoring group said the victim was a Sabahi supporter who was shot dead by police, the interior ministry identified him as an NDP supporter.

With a success rate hovering at about 70%, the Muslim Brotherhood had hoped its 49 third phase candidates would be enough to take its seat tally past the 100 mark, having secured 76 seats in the first two phases.

“The NDP is using all possible means to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from obtaining 100 seats in Parliament,” Aryan said. “Cheating is their only resort since despite attempts to hamper polling, we have won many votes.”

The dominance of President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP is not at risk, but it needed to secure about 90 seats in the final phase to retain the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution and pass emergency laws.

Hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were rounded up in the run-up to the final phase, which centred on rural areas in the Nile Delta, as well as the remote regions of Sinai and Upper Egypt.

Washington, which has made Egypt one of the kingpins of its policy of democratisation in the Middle East, voiced its concern over the violence but stopped short of openly condemning the regime.

“We are concerned about the violence that has surrounded recent phases of the Egyptian electoral process,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters. “But these elections are, overall, an important step on Egypt’s path toward democratic reform.”

Yet the country’s respected judges have repeatedly condemned violations in the electoral process and announced they would hold a general assembly in two weeks to discuss whether to supervise future elections.

The elections kicked off on November 9, two months after the country held its first pluralist presidential election, which saw 77-year-old Mubarak sweep to a fifth six-year term.

They left the secular opposition dead in the water, including young Ghad party leader and erstwhile United States darling Ayman Nur, who lost his seat in the first round and expects a jail sentence in his forgery trial in the coming days.

Campaigning under the slogan “Islam is the solution”, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, founded in 1928, made major gains in the first two phases and demonstrated its popular support base.

Its surprise showing in the elections will boost its case for legalisation as a political party, an option Mubarak’s regime and Washington have consistently ruled out.—Sapa-AFP

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