508 parliamentary seats are up for grabs in today's elections in Egypt, with over 5000 candidates from a variety of parties vying for votes. While opposition parties, including Al-Wafd, Al-Tagammu, and the Muslim Brotherhood, have mounted campaigns to challenge the ruling National Democratic Party, the NDP is expected to come out of today's elections on top.
Campaigning has been ongoing throughout the day in spite of instructions from the High Electoral Commission, which supposedly forbade campaigning past midnight last night. In Cairo's Sayyeda Zainab neighborhood NDP supporters passed out leaflets at polling stations, and groups of men drove around on trucks mounted with microphones, festively proclaiming their support for ruling party candidates.
The atmosphere in most of Egypt however, has been anything but festive, with reports of election-related violence emerging from around the country. Al-Ahram newspaper, which is majority-owned by the Egyptian government, reported seven election-related deaths by the early afternoon. Shots were fired in polling station clashes between MB and NDP supporters in the Monufia Governorate, and police reportedly fired tear gas at voters at multiple polling stations in the delta area. Demonstrations grew in Suez, with some reports indicating that as many as 4000 people had seized a building in protest of election procedures. Al-Jazeera correspondents working in Suez reported having their camera equipment stolen, and foreign correspondents in Al-Arish were refused entrance to polling stations. Additional violence erupted in Mansoura in front of a school when thugs brandishing weapons clashed with Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
In Sayyeda Zainab neighborhood, candidates can reportedly buy a vote for as little as 20 Egyptian pounds, while eyewitnesses in Shoubra report votes being bought for as much as 100 pounds. Reports emerged in Qena that a young girl who died twenty years ago was registered to vote for the NDP. Yet in spite of widespread reports of violence, forgery, rigging, and other election irregularities, Al-Ahram reported in the early afternoon that, according to the Head of the High Electoral Commission, the election process was going quite smoothly.
Egyptian election monitors were undoubtedly frustrated by the day's events, as the ruling government forbade any foreign groups to monitor the election. In response to a suggestion from the United States that Egypt accept international election observers, an Egyptian government spokesman rebuffed, “We don’t want any international monitoring agencies to interfere in Egypt’s national affairs. This is the business of Egypt.”
The violence marking today's elections shows that Mubarak has indeed carried on business as usual, assuring the ruling party's victory with the aid of hired thugs, stifled media, and stuffed ballot boxes. If today’s parliamentary elections are any indicator, the upcoming 2011 presidential election will be anything but democratic. Meanwhile, the United States has been largely silent about Egypt's human rights violations, even though Egypt is one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, receiving just under US$ 2 billion from its American ally annually. All that money falling into Mubarak's hands, yet his "National Democratic Party" is democratic in name only. Egypt is a far cry from supposed "democracy" which America purportedly supports in the Middle East.
The United States’ unfettered support for Mubarak’s regime is yet another instance of American leadership funding human rights violations and crimes against humanity. While the United States wages war in the name of democracy in some areas of the Middle East, here in Egypt Mubarak runs his military dictatorship largely on America’s dime.
Live Election Coverage here: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/756.aspx
(Many of the examples I mentioned were first reported here)
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I took these pictures on a walk around my neighborhood today. The first shows campaign banners strong in the street in front of Sayyeda Zainab mosque, and the second shows posters supporting candidates from the ironically-named "National Democratic Party." (More pictures on my roommate's blog, here). It's interesting because most of the violence from Egypt today came out of poor areas- yet another example of the squashing of Egypt's impoverished. My roommate and I passed by about five polling stations. All were crowded with lots of men and some police, some had people outside holding signs and passing out leaflets. A pick-up truck was making rounds about the neighborhood playing festive music and blasting slogans supporting NDP candidates over the microphone. I asked some people around the neighborhood what they thought of the election. The man at the corner store was a hopeful supporter of an Al-Ghad party candidate, and a girl at the grocery store told me that she didn't vote and giggled, as if the election was all a bit of a joke. While many aren't voting due to the election boycott, even more people aren't voting simply out of cynicism. The best reaction came from my bowab (the doorman). When I asked the news of the election and who he supported, he said, "The more important question is who does President Mubarak support. I am just a bowab." After finishing this blog, a reporter from Al-Masry Al-Youm happened to call me interested in foreigners' perspectives on the elections. She finished up her interview with question: So how can we make elections fair in Egypt? Perhaps I will ask my bowab...