EGYPT: Opaque and messy elections further sour Egyptians on government
As results come in for Egypt’s People’s Assembly elections — surprise, a victory for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) — they enjoy little credibility either inside or outside the country due to the total lack of transparency and the widespread irregularities and violence that characterized the voting and counting processes. In fact, the main opposition groups (the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd) have announced they will boycott the runoff round to protest massive irregularities.
Extensive restrictions on media coverage and civil society monitoring ensured there would be little transparency on election day. Egyptian authorities prevented live satellite broadcasts from the country and canceled planned television programs by major media outlets, including the BBC.
After rebuffing requests from international organizations to observe the elections by citing an extensive domestic monitoring effort, Egyptian authorities impeded the work of local civil society monitors. Only a small percentage were granted official credentials; of these, most were either denied entry to polling and counting stations or evicted after they entered.
Although monitors mostly watched the elections from outside polling places, they observed signs of widespread electoral fraud, in particular ballot box stuffing. Monitors witnessed or received eyewitness accounts (as well as video evidence) of voting stations being closed for hours while poll workers wrote out ballot after ballot, and of supporters of ruling party candidates arriving at voting stations bearing large plastic bags full of voter cards or completed ballots. Meanwhile, outside the polling places, vote buying proceeded as usual.
Coercion and intimidation also featured in the elections, primarily perpetrated by baltagiyya, thugs hired either by the security services or by individual candidates. These thugs — most of whom appeared to be affiliated with the regime or National Democratic Party — kept voters out of certain polling stations for hours at a time, expelled civil society monitors and journalists by force, and intimidated or beat up campaign workers or thugs working for other candidates, while uniformed security looked on.
Among the little-noticed surprises of the elections was an announcement that Coptic Pope Shenouda had voted for an opposition candidate, Rami Lakah (a Copt) of the Wafd Party. This was in stark contrast to the pope’s stance during the 2005 elections when he told Copts to vote for the ruling National Democratic Party and even excommunicated several Copts who ran as opposition candidates. While Shenouda’s change of heart will not affect the results, it shows his strong displeasure with the regime’s handling of simmering sectarian tensions, including a recent incident that provoked unrest and resulted in the killing of one young Coptic man.
Sectarian conflicts are among several other issues — economic dissatisfaction, police brutality and torture, and public safety problems — souring the attitude of Egyptians toward the government and keeping the internal situation at a simmer, if not a boil. A parliamentary election seen by Egyptians as having been stolen will turn the temperature up another notch.
-- Michele Dunne in Washington
Photo: An Egyptian boy looks out from his home balcony under election banners promoting a candidate in Cairo last week. Credit: Amr Nabil/Associated Press