Parliamentary Elections in Egypt

No Chance for the Opposition

Despite an Egyptian government promise to hold free and fair elections, Sunday's poll has been marred by reports that voters were prevented from casting their ballots and that ballot papers were forged en masse. Human rights organisations also say some polling stations were the scene of violent clashes. Amira El Ahl reports from Cairo

Egyptian voters (photo: AP)
Half-empty ballot boxes: Election observers suggest that no more than 10 percent of the 41 million eligible to vote cast their ballots on Sunday

​​ The lady in the grey twin set leafs through the electoral roll for the umpteenth time, but her name is nowhere to be found, even though she is registered in this district.

"I'm not going until this has been cleared up," she says and sits back down on the green child's swing. She has already been waiting almost four hours. And she is not the only one.

A large number of women come and go throughout the day, because their names cannot be found in the register and in spite of being in possession of a voting slip and valid identity card, they are not allowed to vote. Officially, anyone able to produce an identity card and/or voting slip is eligible to vote.

The women arriving at the Qaumniya School polling station in the smart neighbourhood of Zamalek, a station reserved for women only, know their rights. They are members of the nation's upper classes, and many of them have good (family) connections with the centres of power.

Most of them probably intend to vote for the candidate representing the governing National Democratic Party (NDP). "It's a disgrace what's happening here," says one electoral officer. "Everyone should have the right to vote, no matter who they vote for. We're losing a great number of votes here."

Free and fair elections?

On Sunday November 28, 41 million Egyptians were called upon to elect 508 new parliamentary representatives. 444 of them – men and women – were elected in 222 constituencies. A further 64 seats are reserved for women and were chosen in 32 constituencies. A total of 5,064 candidates stood for election.

photo: Amira El Ahl
A slip that officially confirms eligibility to vote. But this woman was not allowed to cast her ballot because the number on the slip did not match the name on the register. Many other women were prevented from voting in this way

​​ The government had promised to guarantee free and fair elections – even though on this occasion, no independent adjudicators or international election observers were allowed to enter polling stations.

One day after the election, the government billed the poll as a success; in an official statement issued by Egypt's Minister of Information Anas El-Fekky, the electoral commission explained that on balance, everything had gone smoothly.

But for anyone reading an independent daily newspaper on Monday morning, or looking at videos and polling day reports from activists and members of the opposition posted on the Internet, the picture was quite a different one.

The front page of Egypt's largest circulation independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm shows photographs of men in civilian clothing holding machine guns in their hands, men fighting with batons and burning street barricades. A series of photographs inside the paper shows ballot papers being forged at one particular polling station.

Footage captured by mobile phones now available on YouTube shows dozens of ballot papers being filled out by electoral officers and stuffed into large ballot boxes. There are allegations of vote buying, with one newspaper claiming prices of up to 200 Egyptian pounds paid for a cross in the correct box.

Violent clashes

"At one polling station, voters were told to write their names on the ballot papers, which of course invalidates them," says Israa Abdel Fattah, who observed the elections for the Egyptian Democratic Institute. She also says that members of the NDP were present at other polling stations without official permission, and that they only left after protests from the human rights organisation.

photo: Amira El Ahl
Supporters of Mohamed El-Beltagy outside the polling station in Shubra El-Kheima: Initial projections indicate that although it fielded 130 candidates, the Muslim Brotherhood was not able to secure a single direct mandate

​​ On contrast, accredited journalists and election observers were often refused entry. "The elections have shown that Egypt is a dictatorship, a country where votes are stolen from the people," says Abdel Fattah.

Other human rights groups are reporting up to eight fatalities, 45 violent clashes and 180 people detained by security forces on polling day. The Ministry of Information denies that the deaths were connected with the elections and says there were only isolated incidents of violence and injury caused to individuals.

Crowds of people gathered outside the polling stations in Shubra El-Kheima, one of Cairo's poorest districts. Most came to support the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed El-Beltagy. The Brotherhood may be officially banned in Egypt, but its members can be elected to parliament as independent candidates.

El-Beltagy won a parliamentary seat five years ago. He is popular in his constituency, but his re-election appears unlikely. For although hundreds of his supporters chanted his name outside the polling booths, there were only a few dozen ballot papers inside the ballot boxes. Apart from the official election workers and representatives of the NPD candidate, there was no one to be seen. "They're not letting my supporters in to cast their votes," said El-Beltagy.

Election loser: Democracy

There were many half-empty ballot boxes in evidence across the capital on election day. Election observers suggest that no more than 10 percent of the 41 million people eligible to vote actually cast their ballots on Sunday.

"It will be a clear victory for the governing party," says Amr El-Shobaki, political analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. Initial projections appear to show that the Muslim Brotherhood, which entered the field with 130 candidates, has not managed to secure a single direct mandate, although 14 of its candidates could still win seats in the run-off next Sunday.

photo: Amira El Ahl
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed El-Beltagy: "They're not letting my supporters in to cast their votes," he says

​​ This is a bitter setback for the Brotherhood, which held 88 parliamentary seats following the 2005 election, making it the largest opposition bloc.

Amr El-Shobaki says the political system in Egypt is marked by irregularities at polling stations, such as corruption and gangs of thugs intimidating voters: "The biggest loser in this election is democracy, the winners are chaos and violence."

The analyst says he can foresee no major transformation taking place in Egypt in the near future. "Elections do nothing to change the system here," he says. The result will also have no impact on the presidential poll due to take place next year. "There'll be some kind of arrangement and the winner – an NDP candidate of course – will have been decided in advance," says El-Shobaki.

With an absolute majority in parliament and a marginalised opposition, it would appear that the NPD can continue its governance of Egypt undisturbed over the coming five years.

Amira El Ahl

© Qantara.de 2010

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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