- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

CAIRO — Police stopped Egyptians from voting yesterday in areas where the opposition Muslim Brotherhood is strong in the first elections under an amended constitution designed to push the Islamists out of politics.

Brotherhood candidates in the upper house elections complained that government agents have beaten them inside polling places and committed electoral abuses such as stuffing ballot boxes before voting started.

The elections are a test case for constitutional and legislative changes that ban religious slogans and symbols — seen as a way to drive the Islamists from mainstream politics.

Riot police sealed off at least two polling places in Ausim, northwest of Cairo, and a bystander said: “It’s because there are lots of Brotherhood supporters here.” A police officer who asked not to be named cited “national security.”

Police used the same method to reduce the Brotherhood vote in the northern coastal town of Baltim, where women in Islamic head scarves said police had turned them away, witnesses said.

“What freedom are they talking about?” said Amani, a woman who refused to give her last name.

“No freedom. They won’t allow us in,” several women chanted.

Election Commission spokesman Sameh el-Kashef said: “Nothing happened to disturb the serenity of the election process.” But human rights groups reported the same questionable practices by the authorities as witnesses and representatives of the Brotherhood.

“Violations and abuses … were pervasive in the first round of the Shoura [upper house] elections,” the independent Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said.

In an incident unrelated to the main conflict between the Islamists and the government, a supporter of an independent candidate was fatally shot in the Nile Delta.

In many areas only a trickle of people bothered to vote, eyewitnesses said, but the Brotherhood’s decision to challenge the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in 19 of the 88 seats at stake made them more competitive than in previous years.

A Brotherhood candidate in Kafr el-Sheikh province, Ashraf el-Said, said police and others beat him when he grabbed ballot papers from election officials who were filling them in on behalf of the ruling party.

“About 20 people — police, security and the civil servants — pounced on me. I have injuries on my hands, signs of biting; I was punched in the face and my clothes are a mess,” he said by telephone.

One voter in the same province said he voted twice: “Election officials gave me another ballot to vote on behalf of another man I don’t know,” the voter said on the condition of anonymity. Another one said he voted on behalf of five persons.

Nagi Sakr, another Brotherhood candidate, said about 13 men he described as police informers and thugs attacked him and his companions in a polling station in the Delta town of Zagazig.

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