- As Egyptians go to the polls tomorrow in the final stage of parliamentary elections, attacks on the press and opposition supporters are intensifying. Several journalists and correspondents have been beaten up and there are reports about mass arrests of opposition party supporters and activists. The government is accused of arbitrary arrests and intimidation.
So far in Egypt's parliamentary elections, "independent" candidates supporting the prohibited Muslim Brotherhood have made large gains despite low-profile government efforts to muzzle candidates and voters and censor the press. As tomorrow's final voting round nears, President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party obviously is caring less about its reputation and intensifies attacks on the press and opposition.
Hundreds of people suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, effectively the country's leading opposition organisation, have been arrested since voting began in early November. Although officially banned, many candidates standing as independents are known to support the Brotherhood and areas in which the opposition is known to have strong popular support have been the scene of mass arrests, including of several Brotherhood candidates, according to human rights groups.
"Up to 1500 Muslim Brotherhood activists and delegates of candidates were arrested in the last two weeks in various governorates ... where the Muslim Brotherhood is putting up candidates for the final phase, and hundreds of others arrested earlier this month remain in detention," according to Amnesty International. "The current wave of arrests is reminiscent of a pattern which has seen previous mass arrests of Muslim Brothers at the time of presidential and parliamentary elections in an apparent attempt by the authorities to disrupt their election campaign," the group says in a statement.
The human rights groups today also voiced concern about the reaction of Egyptian authorities to the violence that broke out last week following clashes between supporters of different candidates. Scores of opposition supporters have been injured in attacks by rampaging government party supporters, often in front of police who, however, failed to take action to curb the violence or apprehend the perpetrators.
Security officials were also reported to have prevented voters from casting their votes in some places and to have arrested local non-governmental election monitors or prevented them from accessing polling stations although they possessed official accreditation documents issued by the Ministry of Justice.
While ruling party agents and the police are now openly cracking down on Muslim Brotherhood activists and candidates, efforts were made during the last week to silence the independent press. A large number of Egyptian journalists and foreign correspondents have been beaten up or detained since 20 November, according to a report from the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).
Among the journalists attacked on 20 November was 'Los Angeles Times' correspondent Hossam El-Hamalawy, who was beaten by nine plain-clothes security agents in the northern province of El-Behaira, and Mohamed Reda and Wael Mostafa, two reporters with the opposition weekly 'Afaq Arabeya'.
Police detained photographer Hossam Fadl of the independent Egyptian daily 'Al Masry Al-Youm' for seven hours in the eastern province of Suez on 20 November, while reporter Abdel-Hafiz Saad of the independent weekly 'Al-Fajr' was arrested in the Nile Delta region of Bandar Tanta and taken to the Quhafa police station, "where he was severely beaten," RSF claims.
Among the journalists attacked on 26 November was 'BBC' reporter Mohammad Taha, who was hit with great force by a police officer. Security agents prevented Marwa Gadallah of 'Dubai Satellite Channel' from entering a polling station. Mohamed Al-Bolok, of the pan-Arab TV news station 'Al Jazeera', and his crew were briefly detained at Quhafa police station.
'Reuters' correspondent Tom Perry was also taken to this police station, where police confiscated his camera's memory card. 'Reuters' this week had run a critical analysis on the Egyptian elections, concluding that the US government was reconsidering its Middle East "democratisation policy" following the successes of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Further, RSF report, Asmaa Mohamed Ahmed Hraiz, of the Egypt opposition weekly 'El-Karamah', had been "kidnapped by police" outside a polling station in the district of Shoubra-El-Kheima north of Cairo on 26 November. A policeman had "confiscated her camera and mobile phone and threatened to rape her. Two police women then beat her unconscious and left her for dead in a park in the centre of Cairo," RSF adds.
Abdel-Baseer Hassan of the 'BBC' was denied access to two polling stations in the Ghorbal district of Alexandria on 26 November, while 'Agence France-Presse' photographer Cris Bouroncle was prevented from working by policemen outside closed polling stations in the district of El-Mahmodeya, 200 km north of Cairo, and a policeman outside a polling station in El-Mahalla, 100 km north of the capital, had "threatened 'Associated Press' correspondent Maggie Michael with violence and rape if she did not leave at once."
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