Today marks the first day of voting in Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since former president Hosni Mubarak’s forced resignation in February 2011. The run-up to the election was overshadowed by massive demonstrations against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power in Mubarak’s wake to oversee a political transition. In scenes reminiscent of January and February this year, Tahrir square rang with chants of “Down with Military Rule” and “Down with Tantawi”. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi heads the SCAF. Rising numbers of protesters lost their lives during the demonstrations as a result of the violent crack down undertaken by the new Central Security Force and army soldiers. Thousands are thought to have sustained injuries.
Despite this, the SCAF are determined that elections should go ahead. The other bloc that have always insisted elections must go ahead are the Muslim Brotherhood, who were conspicuous by their absence in these latest Tahrir demonstrations. The Brotherhood appear to have been closely aligned with the SCAF since February, except for a brief spat over the deputy prime minister’s draft of a supra-constitutional document. The Brotherhood eventually got their way, perhaps in return for agreeing not to take part in the anti-SCAF protests.
The violence has already started. Clashes are reported in Port Said between the supporters of George Ishak and the supporters of Hezb al-Nour, a Salafist party. Another candidate Dr Abdullah Farag was stabbed and is now in a critical condition. There are reports that pre-filled ballot papers have been discovered and today a number of polling stations are reporting delays. Voting should have started at 9am this morning several contacts in Cairo, independently and in different districts, reported a two hour delay. Al-Masry al-Youm is reporting that a polling station in Nasr City is still not operating as of 1pm because ballot papers have yet to arrive.
Salafist Hezb al-Nour hands out Koshary (a type of food) to voters http://twitpic.com/7l3bio
Meanwhile Islamist parties continue to campaign. One voter in Alexandria captured campaigners for the Salafi parties on video as they handed out flyers this morning. It seems they are not the only ones though. Twitter users report being handed flyers from independent candidates and al-Wafd. A contact in central Cairo reported that Muslim Brotherhood members were standing at the entrance to a polling station in Dar al-Salam when he went to vote. They were explaining the complicated forms to people and how to vote. They had also erected platforms on which they were campaigning and calling on people as they waited to vote to ‘save Islam’ by voting for them.
Another area of criticism is the organisation of voting for Egyptian expats. Many of those who have tried to vote reported confusion about what would happen to their ballot papers. The officials seemed to be equally as vague about when, where and how the votes would be counted. Another concern is that voters are required to submit identification documents with their vote, such as a copy of their visa and birth certificate. One voter explained that he had to place his vote inside one envelope and then place this envelope inside a larger one along with these identification papers.
The violence and protests preceding the vote, on top of the apparent violations and disorganisation have persuaded many that their only option is a boycott of the election. The aim is to prevent the election from claiming credibility. For many, there are fears that the result is a forgone conclusion in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Initial counts of expat votes in Saudi Arabia suggest 80 per cent of the votes went to the Freedom and Justice Party.
http://twitpic.com/7l1mww Freedom and Justice Party Poster
An article by Ambassador Marc Ginsberg in the Huffington Post backs up the belief that the SCAF and the Islamist parties are in league with each other. This suspicion has been raised on multiple occasions since February, beginning with privileged position given to Islamists in drafting the amendments of the constitution in February/March 2011 and continuing with increase in attacks on Christians and the ongoing support of the Brotherhood for the SCAF’s policies.
All this suggests a victory for the Islamist bloc and further violent protests ahead for Egypt.