In Arish, Sinai’s first constituency, foreign media have been forbidden from entering polling stations despite having received an official permit from the Ministry of Communications in Cairo. A spokesperson for the Arish Press Office said they received orders not to allow any journalists inside the polling stations except for those affiliated to the ruling NDP.
Abdelrahim al-Shurbagi, a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate in Arish, said that “officials are intentionally slowing the procedures in the ballots where the Muslim Brotherhood are expected to win. Arish is considered an MB stronghold.”
In Mahalla there have been reports of assaults against Muslim Brotherhood members.
In Hadayek al-Qobba, around 200 people have gathered to vote and are chanting in support of the candidate Amr Zaki. The vote is proceeding smoothly, with officers letting people in gradually.
Polling stations in Shubra haven’t gathered many voters yet, while in Osayareen, Zawya, at the Suzanne Mubarak school for girls and Mohamed Naguib school for boys, there is loud music and a large crowd, although most of the people gathered are not voting.
A Cairo court on Saturday overturned the Egyptian telecoms regulator’s decision to monitor news feeds on mobile phones ahead of elections, Egypt’s official news agency MENA said on Saturday.
The court also cancelled another decision by the telecoms regulator requiring satellite broadcast firms to have a special license to provide their services to mobile phones.
“The State Council Administrative Court has on its Saturday session … cancelled the national telecoms regulator’s decision that the content of news feeds sent to mobile phones has to be subjected to monitoring,” MENA said, quoting the Cairo Administrative Court decision.
“The court has also cancelled the condition that companies and entities desiring to offer news services through mobile phones’ messages to get licences and approvals from the national telecoms regulator,” MENA added.
The regulators’ decisions were taken in October and were shortly followed by another one preventing satellite broadcast firms from offering live feeds to private TV channels.
Critics have seen the decisions as bound to hamper reporting in the run-up to the parliamentary vote that will take place on Sunday and a 2011 presidential election.
On Friday, two Egyptian opposition pages on the social network site Facebook were deleted from the Internet for a while before they were restored after discussions with the site’s administrators.
Egyptians voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday that is expected to produce another clear victory for President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party.
The government has promised a free, fair and peaceful vote. Opposition groups have cried foul in advance.
Below are some details about the lower house of parliament:
The outgoing assembly has 454 seats. The new one will have 518 after 64 women-only seats were added. Women can and do run for seats outside the quota. Only 508 seats will be contested. The president appoints the remaining 10.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes, the top two candidates contest a run-off vote on December 5. A ruling party official estimates that 180 seats could go to a run-off.
Parliament passes legislation but the outgoing assembly was seen as a rubber-stamp for the government because the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) had a two-thirds majority.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which fields its candidates as independents because it is not a legal party, had its most successful result in 2005 when it won 88 seats.
Even with a fifth of seats, the Brotherhood could not have a significant impact on legislation. But the presence of such a big bloc made for livelier debates and more vocal opposition.
The Brotherhood’s impressive 2005 showing coincided with heavy pressure on Egypt from its ally and major aid donor, the United States, to open up its politics. That pressure, part of a drive for democracy in the Middle East launched by former President George W. Bush, faded even before he left office.
Analysts say the authorities have signaled their intentions before this vote by rounding up many Brotherhood members.
NDP officials have also predicted the Brotherhood would lose seats. Even the Brotherhood quietly admits that it may lose ground and is fielding fewer candidates than five years ago.
The liberal Wafd, a decades-old party which lacks the grassroots support the Brotherhood enjoys, is widely expected to make gains at the Islamist movement’s expense.
NDP KEEPS TIGHT GRIP
The government says voting is free and fair, and that any violations are investigated.
The opposition and Egyptian election monitors have cited widespread abuses in previous votes, such as using security forces to block Islamist and other opposition supporters from voting. They expect similar government tactics this time.
The government has rejected international oversight of the poll. Some opposition groups say they do not want foreign involvement but complain that Egyptian monitors are denied proper access.
The NDP failed to win a majority in 2005, but maintained its grip on parliament by reinstating dozens of former party members who had quit because they were not on the NDP’s candidate list and then ran as independents, defeating the party’s nominees.
This year, the NDP is fielding more than 830 candidates, so many NDP candidates will be running against each other. Party officials say this will help to ensure that voters do not cast protest ballots for the Islamists or others out of frustration that their preferred NDP candidate was not on the ticket. Such frustrations are common in areas of Egypt where family or clan loyalties remain strong.
PARTY STRENGTHS IN OUTGOING ASSEMBLY
Shifting allegiances mean the tally can be fluid. Just as the NDP’s official list did not win a majority in 2005, the Wafd won only half a dozen seats, but now claims double that.
National Democratic Party – 318
Muslim Brotherhood – 86
Wafd – 12
Tagammu – 1
Al Ghad* – 1
Karameh – 2
Others including appointed MPs – 34
TOTAL – 454
* The Al Ghad party in parliament is seen as a pro-government splinter group from the Al Ghad party founded by Ayman Nour, who came a distant second to Mubarak in the 2005 presidential poll.
Egyptian security forces were on high alert on Saturday, on the eve of a general election, after activists clashed with police at the end of a campaign marred by violence and a crackdown on the opposition.
Thousands of activists demonstrated in support of their candidates throughout the Nile Delta and in the south of the country as campaigning for the vote came to an end on Friday night, said security officials.
Several of the rallies turned violent after supporters of rival candidates hurled stones at each other, they said.
Activists for the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group clashed with police in the southern Bani Suef governorate, and at least 15 protesters were arrested.