Elections monitor: NDP battles Brotherhood in Alex, debate over farmer’s seat

Today’s papers differ significantly in their coverage of November's parliamentary elections. NDP internal division and Muslim Brotherhood participation are among the few common themes.

Only statements made by Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab at a conference in Alexandria on the legality of separation of powers receives coverage from almost all papers, albeit with significant discrepancy in coverage size and content emphasis.

Shehab’s statements receive very limited coverage in state-owned Al-Ahram (a small square on the bottom right-hand corner of its elections page). The report is limited to Shebab’s assertion that the upcoming elections will be free and fair due to full and authentic judicial oversight in general polling stations. Shehab also asserted that the government will not interfere in the elections, and will make sure that local leaderships’ treatment of candidates is sound. Government buildings will not be used for campaign purposes, he added.

State-run Al-Akhbar highlights Shehab’s remarks and mentions briefly that Shehab believes government ministers should have the right to explain and defend government policy to parliament since both houses have certain sovereign powers. State-run Al-Gomhorriya’s coverage of the same story is more prominent–occupying almost one quarter of the second page–but similar in content to that of other state-run coverage.

Privately-owned Al-Wafd, however, reports that the conference degenerated into a campaign for Shehab and other ministers who are running for seats in parliament. At the conference Shehab, according to Al-Wafd, argued that businessmen are not fit to represent the electorate, and that ministers are the best representatives because they are close to the people. Ministers serving as members of parliament do not undermine the separation of powers, he said. Instead, these ministers are keen to attend parliamentary sessions, and are subject to numerous questions, which demonstrates the presence of a practical separation of powers. Shehab added that no one can interfere with Egypt's judiciary and that there are government efforts to boost the power of the legislature.

Privately-owned Al-Shorouk is the only national newspaper to report that the NDP held a meeting yesterday to discuss the party’s electoral platform for the upcoming poll. According to the coverage, the platform will be reviewed by President Hosni Mubarak and formally announced during the NDP’s annual conference in November. Sources refused to provide details to Al-Shorouk but the paper identifies improving wages, providing employment opportunities, and increasing the size of agricultural land as some aspects of the platform. The legislative agenda includes a new law on agricultural cooperatives, a new law on consumption centers and a terrorism law, sources told Al-Shorouk.

State-run Rose al-Youssef features a page-length interview with Mounir Fakhry Abdul Nour, secretary-general of the Wafd party, who argues that the decision to participate or boycott elections is a difficult one. Boycotting, however, would result in alienating the party from the political scene for five years, he said.

A few privately-owned newspapers continue to draw attention to violent clashes in NDP internal elections, and broader division within the NDP ranks. The weekly Youm7 dedicates a full page to documenting the districts of “death” in the upcoming elections. Districts include Qena, Damietta, Fayoum, Asyout, Gharbiya, Giza, Kafr al-Sheikh, and Alexandria. Qena, where 17 people died, is the most violent district, according to the report. According to Al-Wafd, two shots were fired in Beheira. Al-Wafd also reports that NDP internal elections were cancelled and repeated for the first time in two Alexandria districts of Gomrok and Manshiya.

Pointing to fierce competition over NDP nomination, state-run Al-Akhbar reports on its elections page that an administrative court ruling that bars candidates who do not own land in a district from competing for the farmers’ seat in that district has caused some panic among several NDP candidates. The ruling has forced the candidates to rethink their campaign strategy, according to the coverage. NDP candidates from Cairo (who own land on the outskirts of the city) had not usually run as “farmers,” but fierce competition has mandated they try to do so.

Coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation deals with the wave of arrests against the organization's members, the challenge Brotherhood candidates may pose to the NDP, and questions surrounding the label “Muslim Brotherhood.” Al-Wafd reports on its front page that Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie said the recent campaign of arrests reveals the regime’s intention to rig the poll.

With regards to the Muslim Brotherhood challenge to the NDP, Al-Gomhorriya dedicates over half of its elections page to a report on the most hotly-contested districts in Alexandria. The coverage says the NDP wishes to avoid a repeat of 2005, when its gained only 13 of 24 seats in Alexandria and the Muslim Brotherhood acquired ten seats. Karmuz is a district of “complicated calculations,” according to the report, and the Brotherhood is trying to take advantage of the presence of a weak NDP workers’ seat candidate. Al-Gomhorriya also reports that the “outlawed” organization is planning to grab six seats in Gharbiya but that the NDP is capable of securing an early victory.

In a two page-interview with Youm7, Ali Eddin Helal–NDP media secretary–says that those who say the Muslim Brotherhood is a political group are undermining the Constitution and working against democracy.

Finally, Al-Akhbar reports that security forces have arrested 14 members of the Brotherhood in Sharqiya after the group put up religiously-charged campaign materials. The materials were confiscated.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

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