Amira Howeidy witnesses Alexandria’s ferocious elections battle
|Friday, November 25,2005 00:00|
Fracas on the seafront
"On my way to the polling station the taxi driver advised me not to vote straight away but wait until the price of a vote had reached LE100." But the blogger had other things to think about. "I didn’t want to vote for those who manipulate religion nor did I want to vote for the dictators of the National Democratic Party," (NDP) she adds.
Wa7da Masrya doesn’t say who she voted for in the end -- the "nightmare" that was the first round of the second stage was the focus of her post.
"It was bloody, violent and cruel," she wrote. "I cannot forget the bruised and bloodied face of a young man who was running away from a polling station and the look in the eyes of the thugs and criminals as they terrorised the voters."
Egypt’s second city and favourite summer resort was in anything but holiday mood on 20 November, and it was here where elections violence claimed the first victim, the driver of a candidate who was stabbed to death by thugs who many suspect were associated with the ruling party.
Dozens of witnesses who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on Sunday told the same story. Hundreds of thugs armed with swords, knives, machetes and truncheons appeared at the crack of dawn in districts where 10 candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) were facing 22 NDP and 322 independent contenders, competing over Alexandria’s 22 seats in 11 constituencies.
Although Alexandria is an MB stronghold none of its 10 candidates is particularly high-profile, in contrast with the NDP’s Mohamed Abdallah, president of Alexandria University, who was standing in Al-Montazah constituency, Abul-Ezz El-Hariri of the Tagammu, standing in Bab Sharq and Adel Eid, an Islamist- oriented independent MP in the outgoing parliament, standing in Karmouz.
In the 2000 elections Abdallah, an NDP veteran, lost his Al-Montazah seat to NDP dissident Ali Seif, who ran as an independent. In defending his seat Seif forged an alliance with MB candidate Mohamed Mustafa. While Mustafa, an MP in the outgoing parliament, was re-elected in the first round Abdallah and Seif both face re-runs on 26 November.
Al-Raml remained Alexandria’s closest watched constituency, with two MB candidates, El-Mohamedi Sid Ahmed and Sobhi Moussa, standing. In 2000 Sid Ahmed and Jihan Al-Halafawi, the MB’s first female candidate, swept the polls in Al-Raml much to the chagrin of the authorities who contested the results. After a two-year legal battle neither candidate made it to parliament, and the court ruled in favour of two NDP candidates.
In Al-Raml, Mina Al-Basal, El-Dekheila and Bab Sharq the MB faced a tough battle with the NDP, which fielded candidates such as the powerful but not so popular businessman Khaled Abu Ismail and Safi Abdel-Aal El-Sagheer, a wealthy young businessman standing in Mina Al-Basal. They were also up against thugs, vote buying and security forces seemingly determined to look the other way.
According to Ali Abdel-Fatah, MB leader in Alexandria, the group was the subject of a deliberate smear campaign. He told the Weekly that tens of thugs were seen wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the MB’s slogan "Islam is the solution" in an attempt to associate the MB with the violence. He also claimed many of the thugs were brought in from outside Alexandria by the police.
"Most of the violence targeted the MB," said Hamdi Hassan, who won the Mina Al-Basal constituency for the group. "The police coordinated with the thugs and drug dealers on the eve of the elections to attack us."
The organised thuggery was "intended to terrorise the electorate", Hassan told the Weekly. "How can people be expected to vote in such an intimidating climate?"
One of the worst scenes of violence took place at Mogamaa Al-Seyouf, an area where three schools were being used as polling stations for 45,000 voters registered in Al-Raml district.
"The thugs came, carrying swords and knives, and attacked voters standing outside the school while the security forces who were present simply watched on," a witness in his late 60s told the Weekly. The thugs clashed with MB supporters and injured many of them "in what seemed to be a strategy organised with the security forces". As a result the police sealed off Mogamaa Al-Seyouf and prevented voters from entering polling stations.
In Bab Sharq, MB candidate Saber Abul-Fotouh told of a similar incident: "I urged the police officer who was in charge of the voting station’s security to intervene but he said he had informed the authorities ’five times’ with no response."
In all the polling stations visited by the Weekly in Al-Raml, Al-Dekheila and Mina Al-Basal signs of violence were evident. Rows of armed security forces surrounded polling stations while the remains of broken chairs, stones and the shocked expression of residents testified to the tense situation. Some voters displayed cuts and bruises to the Weekly. "A thug just missed my head with his sword," an angry man screamed.
Run-offs on Saturday are expected to be even more violent