The US was desperate to hold up last week’s parliamentary elections in Egypt as evidence of the democratic change it is promoting across the Middle East.
On election day Mohammed Sharmi, the magistrate in charge of the polling station in Badaway in the Upper Nile Delta, declared that voting was “flowing normally according to law. There is a line outside.”
A Washington Post reporter was at the polling station at that moment and stated “at the time, no one except police stood near the building, which was visible behind a phalanx of barriers.
“Inside the election stations government appointees blatantly stuffed ballot boxes in full view of judicial monitors. In some districts, they ignored court orders seeking to prevent them from buying votes or busing in non-residents to defeat opposition candidates.”
It was the same story in Ezbat al-Shams. “The police opened fire on the people,” said Muhammad al-Hadi, who was shot by a rubber bullet as police stopped people voting.
Egypt’s elections are held over several rounds. The candidate with the lowest votes drops out after each round.
When it became clear that few of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) MPs would clear the 50 percent hurdle to get automatically elected, it turned to blockades of polling stations, intimidation, blatant ballot stuffing and shooting voters.
Many left wing and Arab nationalist opposition candidates were knocked out of the race using these tactics. But the real violence was directed at the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition party.
Its members were swept up in mass arrests, while candidates were shot at and beaten. Having failed to intimidate the party the police used tear gas, pellet guns and live ammunition to stop its supporters from voting.
The NDP still faced humilation at the polls. It announced that many of the independent candidates had “joined the NDP”. This came as a surprise to many of them.
The Muslim Brotherhood still shocked Egypt’s president Mubarak, a key US ally in the Middle East, by winning up to 40 percent of the votes cast and getting 60 percent of their candidates elected. That translated into just 20 percent of the seats in parliament.
US state department spokesperson, Sean McCormack, said, “We have not received, at this point, any indication that the Egyptian government isn’t interested in having peaceful, free and fair elections.”
Eventually the state department was forced to issue a correction admitting its “serious concerns about the path of political reform in Egypt”.