Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mubarak clamps down on election rivals

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There were more policemen than supporters following Hazem Farouk, a candidate in Sunday’s parliamentary election in Egypt, as he campaigned through the streets of the Sahel district of Cairo.

Mr Farouk, a dentist and independent candidate affiliated to the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood,

led a procession of 30 men on Tuesday night who chanted slogans about reform as he shook hands with shopkeepers and handed out posters.

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His small band of supporters had barely moved from their meeting point before a heavy police presence

appeared and dogged their every step. Plain-clothes and uniformed officers followed on foot while a police

cameraman hovered around filming. Three minibus loads of officers and two police pick-up trucks trailed


“Other candidates are being allowed to march with hundreds of supporters and with bands playing music

, but we have to be surrounded by a human fence of policemen,” said Mr Farouk. “I am sure the Arabs

of 1948 in Israel have more freedom than us.”

Crucially for his chances on election day, he complained he had been blocked from registering 300

representatives to be present in voting stations during the balloting.

Mr Farouk was a deputy in the outgoing parliament elected in 2005, when candidates backed by the

Brotherhood – regarded as the largest opposition force in the country – gained 20 per cent of the seats,

or one in every two they contested. That surprise performance came as a shock to the regime of

President Hosni Mubarak, who heads the ruling National Democratic party.

This time, the regime is taking no chances and is determined to prevent a repeat of the Brotherhood’s

gains. Police have clamped down on campaign processions by Brotherhood candidates and clashed with

supporters of the group around the country, accusing them of using prohibited religious slogans. Hundreds

of supporters have been arrested.

The group’s chances have also diminished because constitutional changes, in troduced in 2007, abolished

direct supervision of elections by judges, replacing this by an electoral commission. Although judges are in

the commission, civil servants will oversee the actual balloting. About 5,000 candidates are running for the

508 elected seats in parliament. The contestants include 130 independents backed by the Brotherhood.

The NDP, with about 770 candidates, is running multiple contestants in many districts.

Cairo has rejected calls from both home and abroad for international poll monitoring, citing national

sovereignty. The government has promised a free and fair election to be monitored by Egyptian civil


“Egypt is capable of monitoring the polls to prove to the entire world that we are able to manage

completely impartial elections,” said Ahmed Nazif, the prime minister.

To the anger of civil society groups, however, the head of the electoral commission said this week that they

would not be monitoring the poll – just “following” it. Monitors will carry permits from the commission, but

they will still need to get the approval of the heads of voting stations before being allowed in.

Once inside, they are prohibited from speaking to officials administering the vote or to representatives of

candidates. The commission has also banned the media from filming inside polling stations.

“The combination of restrictive laws, intimidation and arbitrary arrests is making it extremely difficult for

citizens to choose freely the people they want to represent them in parliament,” said Joe Stork of Human

Rights Watch.

With thousands of candidates campaigning and every street festooned with posters, Egypt gives the

impression of a country in the grip of election fever. But there are no signs that voter turnout will be higher

than in previous elections when it has remained below 25 per cent.

Mr Farouk shook many hands in Sahel on Tuesday night, but few of the people who greeted him said they

planned to vote for him or anyone else.

By Heba Saleh in Cairo

Published: November 24 2010 23:17 | Last updated: November 24 2010 23:17


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