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Egypt’s polling stations closed their doors to voters at 7 PM on Sunday after an Election Day marred by at least two elections-related deaths, allegations of nationwide vote fraud, and feeble voter turnout.
Experts believe that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will sweep today’s elections for Egypt’s 508-seat parliament, leaving opposition parties with only a handful of seats.
“Violence and thuggery are the most striking features of this year’s elections,” said Tarek Zaghloul, spokesperson for the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections.
At midday, Hussein Salama Zeri, a 30-year-old campaigner for an NDP candidate in North Sinai was shot in the head during clashes with supporters of a rival NDP candidate.
Earlier in the day, another death was reported in the low-income Matariya district in northern Cairo. The son of Sayyed Abu Amr, an independent candidate for the Matariya/Ain Shams workers’ seat, was stabbed last night while hanging up leaflets in support of his father’s campaign. He later succumbed to his injuries.
Clashes also erupted between security forces and campaigners for the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Upper Egypt.
In Qena, police fired tear gas canisters at supporters of brotherhood candidate Mahmoud Elsayeh.
As of press time, eight elections-related injuries had been reported countrywide, including four serious cases requiring intensive medical care, according to local elections monitors. Experts, however, say the level of violence was less severe than had been expected.
“The security apparatus did a decent job controlling thugs and bullies,” said Ahmed Fawzy, director of the Egyptian Association for the Enhancement of Political Participation.
The ruling regime, according to Fawzy, had been deeply complicit in the violence that accompanied 2005 parliamentary elections, during which 14 people were killed.
“Back then, the regime wanted to promote the idea that free elections could result in violence as a way to offset US pressure to open up the political arena,” he explained.
Voting officially kicked off on Sunday at 7 AM with nearly 5000 candidates competing over 508 parliamentary seats in 254 electoral districts. In a number of Cairo districts, polling stations opened at least 45 minutes late, while others were closed periodically during the day for unknown reasons.
The polling station at Dokki’s Hoda Shaarawy School, in particular, was forcibly closed.
Qismat Moharam from Dokki never voted in her life. But today she decided to overcome her traditional disinclination and participate in the polling, choosing two of at least five candidates, including two heavyweight NDP nominees.
“They keep talking about vote rigging,” said Moharam, while standing outside the aforementioned polling station. “Why would we stand silent and let them rig the vote? At least we should do our homework and vote if we want to realize change.”
Yet Moharam faced substantial hurdles in her effort to fulfill her civic duty.
For nearly an hour and a half, the 52-year-old housewife stood outside the closely guarded school, which was forcibly closed at midday for at least two hours.
As she was trying to figure out why the gate had been shut, a violent encounter between an alleged female thug and a journalist forced her to keep a safe distance. Out of the blue, a black-clad woman knocked the journalist’s phone from her hand, preventing her from taking pictures and swearing at her.
“This is a farce. It seems thugs are brought here to ruin the elections,” said Moharam.
Official voter turnout figures will be made available on Tuesday, but election monitors suggest that only 10 percent of Egypt’s 41 million registered voters actually cast ballots today.
“We estimate that the national voter turnout rate won’t exceed 10 percent at most,” said Fawzy.
In 2005, 25 percent of registered Egyptian voters participated in parliamentary elections.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reporters in Cairo, Qena, Alexandria, Gharbiya and Northern Sinai confirmed that voter turnout had been “modest.”
Moharam’s polling station was only one of several voting spots to be closed to voters during the day and surrounded by thugs.
A similar scenario occurred at Al-Haram district, where Muslim Brotherhood campaigners alleged that NDP-backed thugs had been brought to a local polling station to prevent opposition voters from casting ballots.
Speaking from behind her niqab, brotherhood campaigner Hanan Mohamed said that female thugs had briefly prevented women from entering the polling station. “When we began yelling, and the press began to arrive, they allowed us entry,” said Mohamed.
“But when we went in, we found wooden boxes instead of transparent glass ones,” she added. “We could hardly slide our ballots in because the boxes were already full to bursting.”
Zaghloul, for his part, claimed that vote rigging had been reported nationwide. “Ballot stuffing is happening in all provinces,” he said.
The allegations of vote rigging are not necessarily groundless. The state-run High Elections Commission invalided a number of “compromised” ballot boxes in the Beheira governorate after they had been destroyed by candidate supporters who attacked at least three polling stations in the Nile Delta.
In a separate incident, ballots were stolen from seven polling stations in the Kom al-Baraka district in the same governorate. Police arrested 43 of the alleged perpetrators.
Despite these reports, the NDP’s two main rivals--the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd Party--affirmed they had no intention of withdrawing from the races.
"So far, nothing requires that we withdraw," said Wafd Party Chairman Al-Sayed al-Badawi at a news conference held earlier today.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, for his part, also denied rumors that the group was pulling out of elections. One brotherhood candidate in the 6 October governorate, however, withdrew from the race to protest what he called the “massive vote rigging” taking place in his district.
Many experts believe the brotherhood will lose the majority of its current seats in parliament. In 2005, the group--Egypt’s largest and best organized opposition movement--captured some 20 percent of the seats in the national assembly.
“I would be extremely surprised if they won more than ten seats this time around,” said Fawzy.