CAIRO // Egyptians elected members to parliament's upper house yesterday in polls the president had promised would be free and fair but which were marred by charges of irregularities and police intimidation. The polls were also marked by widespread voter apathy and a clash in which a candidate affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and three policemen were shot and wounded.
Police controlling polling stations yesterday prevented voters supporting Brotherhood candidates from entering to cast their votes for the Shura Council. Police also kept out reporters. Police officers at the entrance of the El-Tebin polling station in the middle-class neighbourhood of Helwan barred The National's reporter and photographer from entering the station, despite having special permission from the High Elections Commission to cover the one-day poll.
Other local and international reporters had similar complaints, especially in such areas as Giza, where Brotherhood candidates are running. Several Egyptian human rights groups have criticised the government's refusal to allow them to monitor yesterday's elections, saying the restrictions were signs of election abuse. The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) said it observed vote buying and that several candidates were assaulted in the province of Menufiya.
Bearded men and women in veils and niqab, who police assumed were Brotherhood supporters, were seen negotiating and begging the police to let them cast their votes. Many of them were sent to nearby Tebin police station to get their voting cards because they were told their names were not found on the voting list. Many of these voters wanted to cast their votes to Ali Fath el Bab, a Brotherhood candidate, who is a member in Egypt's lower house of parliament.
"What's happening here is just the opposite of the president's promises about elections integrity and false talk about democracy," said Sania Mohammed Hassan, 60, as she sat on the pavement opposite the polling station. "I've been waiting since the morning to enter, along with my children, who have been standing for hours at the police station to get their voting cards." "I've been voting here for the past 25 years, today police tell me that my name is not here," said Abdel Mohaimen Hassan Hamed, 55, an employee with the Iron and Steel Public Co, outside the Tebin polling station.
Nadia Omar, a poll observer, along with her colleagues, were leaving the polling station to file a complaint with the prosecutor general for not allowing them to represent Mr Fatah el Bab inside despite having stamped power of attorney. Election monitors from civil society groups were also prevented from entering polling stations in the capital and several governorates, the EOHR said. According to the German News agency DPA, Egyptian police shot the representative of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate as he tried to enter a voting station, security sources said yesterday, amid allegations of election fraud.
Police prevented the man, who was an observer for the candidate Mohammed el Zayat, from entering a voting station in the northern province of al Beheira and shot him in the leg when he resisted. He has been taken to a hospital for treatment. A security official said supporters of Mr el Zayat also opened fire in front of the polling station, in the Beheira province, wounding three policemen. The assailants escaped.
Mr el Zayat later announced his withdrawal from the race in a press conference. The Brotherhood is the oldest opposition group in Egypt, which despite being technically banned since 1954, remains the strongest opposition group to the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. Candidates affiliated with the Brotherhood won 88 seats, 20 per cent of the parliament's lower house, in elections in 2005, which were conducted under judicial supervision.
Fourteen members of the Brotherhood are running as independents in Shura elections, and this time around, they did not use their trademark slogan of "Islam is the solution" because the elections committee warned it would expel anyone using religious slogans in elections. The Brotherhood won no seats in the 2008 Shura elections, one year after the constitution was amended to cancel judicial supervision of ballot boxes.
The elections commission, which oversaw the vote, said 446 candidates ran for 74 seats in 55 electoral constituencies. Fourteen candidates have already won seats, as they faced no competition. The Shura, a mainly advisory body, is made up of 264 members of whom 176 are directly elected and the other 88 appointed by the president. Membership is on a rotating basis, with one-third of the council renewed every three years.
Mr Mubarak's ruling party secured almost every seat with one seat going to a leftist opposition party. @Email:email@example.com * With additional reporting from Reuters and Agence France-Presse