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Egypt: Election Questions

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 28, 2010 (101128)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

There will be little surprise in the results of Egypt's elections today, as the ruling party has taken all the repressive steps necessary to ensure that it will have no problem in winning. But, says Egyptian human rights analyst Bahey Eldin Hassan, there will be four significant battles to watch: the legitimacy battle, the battle to monitor, the media battle, and the extent of violence.

Opposition to the regime is widespread and growing, although its expression at the polls will be limited. Judges, bloggers, Facebook groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, and supporters of opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Commission all represent stirrings in Egyptian society that will likely be significant for the future, despite their exclusion from political power.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the press release and report by Human Rights Watch on elections in Egypt, describing the array of repressive measures used by the government to ensure a ruling party victory.

It also contains links to a set of recent commentaries with analytical perspectives on aspects of the elections other than its foregone conclusion. These include:

The Four Battles of Election Day, Bahey Eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
November 28, 2010

The Dynamics of Egypt's Elections, Mona El-Ghobashy September 29, 2010

Egypt's election: power, actors, and..."change," Tarek Osman
November 26, 2010 / direct URL:

Egyptian blogs: reporting the news unfit to print, Bijan Kafi
November 26. 2010 / direct URL:

Behind Egypt's Deep Red Lines, Mariz Tadros
October 13, 2010

Egypt: Trendsetter for Democracy in the Mideast? Nadine Wahab, Communications Director, Rights Working Group
Nov. 26, 2010

Egypt's Pro-Women Election Turns Ugly, Sarah Topol
November 27, 2010 /

Three recent books with analysis on Egyptian politics and society:

Tarek Osman, Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak

Rahab El Mahdi and Philip Marfleets, eds., Egypt: The Moment of Change

Bruce Rutherford, Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam and Democracy in the Arab World

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Egypt, and additional background links, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

Mass Arrests, Intimidation, Campaign Restrictions Make Fair Outcome Questionable

Human Rights Watch

[Excerpts: for full text see]

November 24, 2010

(Cairo, November 24, 2010) - Egypt has carried out mass arbitrary arrests, wholesale restrictions on public campaigning, and widespread intimidation of opposition candidates and activists in the weeks leading up to parliamentary elections on November 28, 2010, Human Rights Watch said today. In a report released today, Human Rights Watch argues that the repression makes free and fair elections unlikely.

The 24-page report, "Elections in Egypt, State of Permanent Emergency Incompatible with Free and Fair Vote," documents the vague and subjective criteria in Egypt's Political Parties Law that allow the government and ruling party to impede formation of new political parties. Egypt remains under an Emergency Law that since 1981 has given security officials free rein to prohibit or disperse election-related rallies, demonstrations, and public meetings, and to detain people indefinitely without charge.

For this election, unlike others over the last 10 years, the government has drastically limited independent judicial supervision, following 2007 constitutional amendments that further eroded political rights. The government has rejected calls for international observers, insisting that Egyptian civil society organizations will ensure transparency. As of November 23, however, the main coalitions of nongovernmental organizations have yet to receive any of the 2,200 permits they have requested to monitor voting and vote counting.

"The combination of restrictive laws, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests is making it extremely difficult for citizens to choose freely the people they want to represent them in parliament," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Repression by the government makes free and fair elections extremely unlikely this weekend."

Human Rights Watch is not monitoring the voting or counting process in the Egyptian elections. As it has elsewhere, it is focusing on documenting systematic violations of the right to freedom of expression, assembly, and association - rights that are fundamental to free and fair elections.

Mass Arrests of Opposition Activists, Disruption of Campaigns

Since the Muslim Brotherhood announced on October 9 that its members would run for 30 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly as independents, security officers have rounded up hundreds of Brotherhood members, mostly supporters who were handing out flyers or putting up posters for the candidates. On November 24, Abdelmoneim Maqsud, the group's chief lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that security forces had so far arrested 1,306 Muslim Brotherhood members, including five candidates, brought 702 before prosecutors, releasing the rest and detained two under the emergency law. The government contends that the group's activities violate Egyptian laws prohibiting political activities with a religious reference point.

Human Rights Watch interviewed separately 14 Muslim Brotherhood supporters from one Alexandrian and three Cairo constituencies. They gave consistent accounts of having been arrested after taking part in traditional election campaign activities - participating in a campaign tour, distributing flyers in support of a candidate, or putting up campaign posters. Uniformed police, often accompanied by plainclothes State Security officers, have blocked or dispersed gatherings by Brotherhood candidates, sometimes using force to break up marches and rallies. The intimidation has been especially notable in Alexandria.

"Independent candidates have the same rights to campaign as those of the ruling party," Stork said. "The timing of these arrests and the blocking of campaign events make it clear that the purpose of these arrests is to prevent the political opposition from campaigning effectively."

Security forces have also targeted other political activists. In Munufiyya, security officers arrested Khaled Adham, Mohamed Ashraf, and Ahmed Gaber, three activists with the National Association for Change, as they were collecting signatures for a petition in support of a movement for political change led by Mohamed El Baradei, who has led a coalition of activists demanding an end to the state of emergency and legal reform. Authorities detained the three men for two-and-a-half hours, then released them without charge.

Under international law, freedom of expression and association can be limited only on narrowly defined grounds of public order, and the restriction must be proportionate to the need. A ban on an organization solely because of the political positions it holds, and the fact that it uses a religious framework or espouses religious principles, is not a legitimate reason to limit freedom of association and expression under international human rights law.

A government may legitimately ban a party that uses or promotes violence, but the government's allegations that such an action is needed must meet a high standard of factual proof. In addition, authorities may arrest and detain individuals responsible for specific criminal acts, but not for mere membership in, or support for, a political organization that the government has decided to outlaw.

Lack of Independent Supervision, Failure to Issue Monitoring Permits for Civil Society Groups

Constitutional amendments in 2007 drastically reduced judicial supervision of elections that the Constitution had previously required. A 2000 Supreme Constitutional Court ruling had provided for full judicial supervision of every polling place, but the 2007 amendment to article 88 reduced this to supervision by "general committees" in which judicial presence is limited.

Although Egyptian officials say that Egyptian civil society groups will monitor the parliamentary elections, a leaked report by the quasi-official National Council for Human Rights on the June 1, 2010 Shura Council elections cast doubt on that contention. The report criticized the High Elections Commission, which formally has responsibility for running the elections, for refusing to issue 3,413 of the 4,821 monitoring permits requested by Egyptian civil society organizations for the Shura Council elections.

The High Elections Commission (HEC) announced on November 22 that it would issue permits for the parliamentary elections, and some organizations received a small percentage of the permits they had requested. But as of November 24, one of the two main coalitions, which includes the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services, has not received a response to its request for 1,113 monitoring permits. Another coalition including the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and Nazra has received no response to its request for 1,116 permits. The commission also stipulated that the monitors' access to polling sites would be subject to the permission of the person in charge of each polling place and that photography was prohibited.

"The Egyptian government has repeatedly rejected calls to allow international observers in as interference, insisting instead that Egyptian civil society will monitor," Stork said. "Yet four days before the elections, 123 organizations in two of the main monitoring coalitions have yet to receive a single one of the 2,229 permits they requested."

Failure to Carry out Court Orders to Reinstate Candidates

On November 16, an administrative court ordered the reinstatement of dozens of candidates whose candidacies had been rejected by the elections commission. On November 17, the commission said on its web site that the decision should be carried out. ...

Ahmad Fawzy, from the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, told Human Rights Watch that the ministry should implement these court orders immediately because only an administrative court can order a stay, and appeals are being filed before courts not competent to hear them. In his view this rationale reflected an official strategy to delay implementation.

Hafez Abu Saada, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told Human Rights Watch that, in all, 350 candidates had been eliminated and reinstated by the court, but that he knew of only one of them who had been given permission to run by the Interior Ministry. ...

Elections in Egypt

State of Permanent Emergency Incompatible with Free and Fair Vote

November 23, 2010

[Brief excerpts only. For full text, including footnotes, see]



The year 2010 could be key for assessing Egypt's ability to run free and fair elections. On June 1, 2010, Egyptians cast votes for two-thirds of the Consultative Council (Maglis al-Shura), the upper house of parliament. On November 28 elections are scheduled for the People's Assembly (Maglis al-Shaab), the lower house. As the uncertain health of President Hosni Mubarak fuels intense speculation about his successor, the November 2010 elections could be an indicator of the country's preparedness for critical presidential elections scheduled for 2011.

Much stands in the way of free and fair electoral participation. Egypt remains under an Emergency Law that gives security officials free reign to prohibit or disperse election-related rallies, demonstrations, and public meetings, and also to detain people indefinitely without charge. Throughout 2010 and especially in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary elections, authorities have used these powers to disrupt and prevent gatherings and arrest individuals solely for exercising their rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression--freedoms that are essential to free and fair elections.

The most recent prior People's Assembly elections in 2005 were marred by fraud and violence but were strongly contested. Members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization won 88 seats as independents - some 60 percent of the seats they contested. The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated candidates sometimes sparked more active debates in the Assembly, in which MPs called ministers to account and raised specific human rights concerns. However, the independent MPs have not been able to affect legislation.

In 2005 President Hosni Mubarak promised to "enshrine the liberties of the citizen and reinvigorate political parties," but a series of constitutional amendments in 2007 and the renewal of the state of emergency in 2008 and again in 2010 have further eroded political rights.

Article 76 of the Constitution, as amended in 2005, allows multiple presidential candidates, but sharply restricts who may run; a candidate must be a leader of an officially recognized political party that has existed for at least five years and has won at least three percent of the seats in both the People's Assembly and the Shura Council. Any independent candidate must secure the endorsement of at least 250 elected members of the People's Assembly, the Shura Council, and governorate-level councils, with at least 65 of them members of the People's Assembly. The ruling National Democratic Party's stranglehold on all of these bodies makes an independent candidacy--such as that of former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei--virtually impossible. El Baradei has attracted support from across the political spectrum because he is not affiliated with the NDP or any other party.

A substantial factor in El Baradei's popularity has been his calls for an end to the state of emergency, for full judicial supervision of the electoral process, for monitoring by independent Egyptian and international civil society organizations, for equal access for all candidates to the media, and for simplifying voting procedures by allowing individuals to certify their eligibility through use of the national identification card that every Egyptian must acquire at age 16.

A new problem in 2010 is that unlike in the elections of the last 10 years, the government has drastically limited independent judicial supervision of the polling, following a constitutional amendment pushed through in 2007. Another new factor is the recently established High Elections Commission (HEC), which issues monitoring permits and appoints "general committees," comprising a limited number of judges who are to oversee the polling. ...

One positive development has been Law 149 of 2009, which allocates 64 parliamentary seats to women, increasing the total number of People's Assembly seats to 518. According to the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, the quota has encouraged women's electoral participation, with 1,046 women running for seats this year compared to 121 in 2000 and 127 in 2005.


People's Assembly elections in particular have often involved widespread violence on voting day. The 2005 parliamentary elections saw serious violence at polling stations, which led to at least 12 deaths and hundreds of arrests of opposition activists and journalists. Sharply reduced independent judicial supervision this year makes independent monitoring of the upcoming elections more crucial, but the government has rejected calls by Egyptians and other governments for international observers. At this writing, less than a week before the elections, Egyptian NGOs have yet to receive monitoring permits from the Higher Elections Committee, which issued only 1,400 out of 4,000 requested for the Shura elections in June 2010.


I. Elections in a State of Emergency

Egypt has been governed under the Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958) almost continuously since 1967 and without interruption since Hosni Mubarak became president in October 1981. The government has regularly renewed the law, most recently in May 2008 and May 2010, each time for two additional years, despite President Mubarak's public commitment in 2005 to allowing it to expire. The Emergency Law gives security officials free reign to crack down on demonstrations and public meetings and to detain people indefinitely without charge.

Disruption of Demonstrations

In 2010 security officials have disrupted political rallies, public protests, and efforts by members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to compete in elections. Activists with the April 6 Youth Movement, named after a strike of workers and opposition activists on that date in 2008, organized a demonstration on April 6, 2010, to call for an end to the state of emergency and amend the constitution to allow for open and inclusive presidential elections. Authorities refused them permission to demonstrate, using their authority under the Emergency Law to ban all demonstrations. ...

In June 2010 widespread demonstrations took place after police officers brutally beat 28-year-old Khaled Said to death on an Alexandria street. On June 20 security officers arrested at least 55 protesters in Cairo, detaining them for up to four hours before releasing them. When protesters assembled at Bab al-Louk Square and a group of around 100 of them walked from there through downtown streets chanting slogans accusing the Ministry of Interior of responsibility for Said's death, riot police and central security officers intervened. Human Rights Watch observed security officials beating, dispersing, and arresting scores of people, including protesters, journalists, and bystanders. Security officials drove the detainees around for hours and then released them on highways outside of Cairo.

Media Crackdown

In the past six weeks authorities have clamped down on media freedoms, one area where there had been measurable liberalization in recent years. On October 3 Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the independent daily Al Dustour and one of the government's most vocal critics, warned that "the Egyptian regime cannot give up cheating in elections, so the only solution for the authorities is to stop any talk about rigging, rather than stopping the rigging itself... So the result is the silencing of satellite channels ... and then the turn of the newspapers will come." On October 5 the newspaper's new owner, Al-Sayed Badawi, fired Eissa. Badawi heads a political party, Al Wafd, which was then preparing to field candidates for the parliamentary elections.

Talk shows on private satellite television channels hosted by high-profile media personalities such as Eissa and Amr Adieb were extremely popular in Egypt. In September 2010 On TV canceled Eissa's talk show, Baladna, a move the Journalists Syndicate criticized as "an organized attack on media freedom in Egypt, especially in light of the approaching parliamentary elections." ...

On October 11 the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority announced a new requirement for organizations that send SMS messages to subscribers to secure prior permission from the Ministry of Information and the Supreme Press Council. This appeared to be directed at the Muslim Brotherhood as well as at groups such as the April 6 Youth Movement, which use SMS messaging to mobilize activists for demonstrations.

On October 13 the government issued regulations effectively bringing all live broadcasts by private companies under control of state television, and on November 1 issued directives requiring prior permission for satellite television uplinks. Arrests of Campaign Activists

Since March 2010 security officials have arrested scores of activists affiliated with the National Association for Change, the Campaign to Support [Mohamed] El Baradei, and the April 6 Youth Movement. On April 2 state security officers arrested Ahmad Mehni, publisher of El Baradei and the Dream of a Green Revolution, and detained him for two days before releasing him without charge. Zyad Elelaimy, a lawyer representing the Baradei campaign, told Human Rights Watch that he had documented the arrest of at least 40 persons gathering signatures and providing other support for El Baradei's campaign; authorities held them briefly and released them without charge.


Judicial Supervision Curtailed

Perhaps the most controversial constitutional amendment introduced in 2007 was to article 88, which drastically reduced judicial supervision. Judges would no longer have a mandatory presence at every polling station, but instead, a very small number of them would have a role as part of "general committees" under the High Elections Commission. Restoring full judicial supervision is a main demand of opposition politicians and activists.


Civil Society Observation of Elections

A coalition of independent NGOs that observed the 2005 People's Assembly elections found that "in addition to the violence and arrests, the electoral process was marred by other serious and widespread violations that contributed to the withering credibility and integrity of the election. These violations include vote-buying, voter intimidation, illegal campaigning, ballot-stuffing, counting irregularities, and inaccuracies with voter lists."

The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, a human rights organization that specializes in election monitoring, has observed parliamentary and municipal elections since 2005. One of its lawyers, Ahmed Fawzy, told Human Rights Watch that judges' supervision of polling stations during voting and vote counting in the 2005 People's Assembly elections prevented more extensive fraud.


In May 2010, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) brought a case before the administrative court against the High Elections Commission for approving only 20 out of the 125 permits the group requested to observe the 2010 Shura elections. On June 1 the court ruled in favor of the EOHR, ordering the HEC to issue the permits.

On the day before the Shura elections took place, when it became clear that the High Elections Commission would not issue any last-minute permits, the Forum of Independent Human Rights organizations, a coalition of independent human rights NGOs, issued a statement:

The refusal of the High Elections Commission to allow human rights groups to monitor the Shura Council elections indicates the committee is not independent and is subject to the state security apparatus that intervenes to ensure the election outcome favors the ruling party.

In its leaked report on the Shura elections, the NCHR also criticized the role of the High Elections Commission for refusing to issue 3,413 of the 4,821 monitoring permits requested.

As of November 22, the coalition including the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has not received a response from the HEC to its request for 1113 monitoring permits nor has the coalition including the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement received a response to its 1116 requested permits. Repeated attempts by the organizations to contact the HEC have failed.

VI. Looking Forward

On November 5, 2010, Egyptian minister of finance Yousef Boutros Ghali published an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he argued that critics of human rights abuses and the political process in Egypt are ignoring the government's economic achievements. He also pointed to the media, the Internet, and civil society in Egypt as evidence of political openness.

Yet it is clear on the eve of the 2010 People's Assembly elections that the government has no interest in opening up the political arena in Egypt, even a crack, to allow for elections that might eventually lead to a peaceful transition of power in Egypt. ...

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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