Egypt Islamists fight obstacles to enter council vote
Egypt Islamists fight obstacles to enter council vote
Wednesday, March 12,2008 12:34
By Cynthia Johnston

A fading purplish bruise under his right eye is all that Said Taha Ali, a member of Egypt"s opposition Muslim Brotherhood, has to show for his attempt to stand in local council elections due next month.

The Brotherhood, Egypt"s strongest opposition group, says the state has systematically blocked its members from contesting the April 8 ballot. It cites a wave of arrests targeting likely candidates and obstruction by local authorities.

Ali, echoing similar complaints by other Egyptian Islamists, says police and pro-government thugs stopped him from submitting papers that would let him contest the race.

"They pushed me and cursed me... There were a lot of men. But the first one who hit me was an officer," said Ali, a municipal employee in the Nile Delta town of Kafr Saqr. He spoke in a slow, trembling voice to avoid aggravating an injured lip.

"They have closed all the paths to nomination. We will try to find another way," he told Reuters.

The Interior Ministry declined comment on the allegations.

Muslim Brotherhood officials have said that the movement planned to field about 7,000 candidates for the 52,600 seats at stake in the elections on village, town and provincial councils across the country. But nationwide, only 50 or 60 Brotherhood members had been able to register as candidates as of Monday, the Brotherhood said, clearing the way for the ruling party to take most seats.

"I came on Wednesday. I brought my papers. I found a large number of thugs," said Islam Maher Akl, a potential candidate from Kafr Saqr, who is also the son of a Brotherhood parliamentarian.

"Between 10 to 15 people beat me, including an officer," he added, showing off a bloodied lip.

Egypt"s local councils hold little real power, but seats may be important nationally if the Brotherhood wants to qualify to field an independent candidate for the presidency in the future.

Under a 2005 constitutional amendment, independent presidential candidates need support from 140 members of local councils in addition to backing from members of parliament.


NOT SLEEPING AT HOME

Nationally, in the run-up to the elections, police have detained more than 300 Brotherhood members who were planning to stand in the vote or were helping with campaigning. Most have not been formally charged.

The obstacles the Brotherhood has faced in entering the race were evident in Kafr Saqr, north of the Egyptian capital in the lush Nile Delta, where the group has a strong popular base.

Not a single Brotherhood member in Kafr Saqr has been able to register for the ballot, said Ahmed Abdel Maqsoud, a Brotherhood official there. He said six potential candidates have been arrested in the run-up to the vote.

"We are not sleeping in our houses," said Hisham al-Ghatwari, a potential Brotherhood candidate from Kafr Saqr who said that dozens of security men had searched his house before dawn on Tuesday, but left after finding him not at home.

Abdel Maqsoud said government officials had refused to stamp as authentic the voter cards of potential Brotherhood candidates in Kafr Saqr, and that the results of fingerprint background checks required to enter the vote had been delayed.

Still, he said, 20 of the 40 Brotherhood men in the town seeking to put their names on the ballot had managed to pull together all the necessary paperwork to contest the vote. But the authorities are still not letting them hand in their papers.

The Brotherhood, which seeks an Islamic state through non-violent and democratic means, has raised the issue in court, seeking a legal ruling to compel the government to take their applications, Abdel Maqsoud said. Egypt postponed council elections for two years in 2006 after the Brotherhood did better than expected in parliamentary elections in 2005. The group holds a fifth of seats in the lower house of parliament elected as independents to circumvent a ban. (Editing by Dominic Evans)

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