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IFEX members condemn fraudulent elections

Ballot boxes from polling stations throughout Shubra are brought to the counting station
Ballot boxes from polling stations throughout Shubra are brought to the counting station

Sarah Carr

Last weekend's parliamentary elections in Egypt were not free, say the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Human Rights Watch - with peaceful opponents and journalists banned or beaten, votes stolen, and monitors excluded.

Nor did the government create conditions for free and fair elections, says the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and other IFEX members, noting widespread attacks on the media prior to election day on 28 November.

According to Human Rights Watch, which visited 30 polling stations on election day, opposition candidate representatives and independent monitors who were supposed to be allowed to watch the voting were barred from almost all polling stations around the country, allowing officials to stuff ballot boxes.

For instance, in the delta city of Samanoud, police officers prevented voters and representatives from entering a women-only polling station. When lawyer Mustafa Nashar explained that he was a representative for an independent candidate, an officer hit him on the shoulder and said there were no elections that day.

Voters waiting to enter the polling station pushed their way in anyway, and Nashar claimed that some saw see-through ballot boxes that already contained several hundred ballots - an indication that ballot-stuffing had started early.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the banned Islamic group Muslim Brotherhood told Human Rights Watch that security forces arrested 186 members in front of polling stations in Port Said, Ismailiya, Damietta, Beheira and Dakahliya.

Defeating Muslim Brotherhood appeared to be the government's main goal in the election. The group is Egypt's strongest opposition movement. In the 2005 elections it shocked the government by winning a fifth of parliament's seats, its strongest showing ever.

The Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections, an alliance of 123 rights organisations across Egypt, including EOHR, also witnessed a whole slew of violations on election day. For example, in Gharbiya security forces fired tear gas bombs to prevent voters from accessing the polling station. Full details of the violations will be made available on EOHR's website in the coming days.

Journalists were not spared. Security officers arrested and briefly detained at least 10 journalists and harassed and restricted dozens of others. Adam Makary, from Al Jazeera English, told Human Rights Watch that polling station officials denied him accesses to the six polling stations he had visited despite the fact that he had the required permits.

"The evidence suggests that Egyptian officials made a concerted effort to prevent opposition candidates from exercising their rights during voting," Human Rights Watch said.

In the run-up to the vote, IFEX members noted that more than 1,000 activists were rounded up by security forces, many complaining of being abused. Opposition media commentators were forced off the air, television channels closed and restrictions placed on text messaging. Meanwhile, the government issued strident statements rejecting calls for international observers and severely limited the access of domestic monitoring groups.

Said ANHRI, "In a country deprived of free elections, where the same party always rules, where a state of emergency has prevailed for more than 25 years, and where the same policies and flawed procedures are imposed, we will not contribute to misleading the public and wasting their rights to choose, decide, elect and vote. We consider the current events to be a charade that has nothing to do with elections."

According to news reports, Egypt's opposition says the government tried to use the election to secure a complete monopoly over parliament and prevent dissent ahead of more significant presidential elections next year. It is uncertain if current President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades, will secure another term. He is 82 and has had serious health issues.

In a statement, the High Election Commission dismissed reports of violence or irregularities during the voting, saying that the few incidents it uncovered "did not undermine the electoral process as a whole."

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