- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

CAIRO — Rights groups yesterday sought a court injunction authorizing poll watchers in a last-ditch attempt to guard against fraud in what will almost certainly be the re-election of President Hosni Mubarak tomorrow.

The 77-year-old president, who has previously been returned to office in uncontested referendums, faces nine opponents, mainly leaders of little-known parties with few members.

But analysts say that he must overcome a serious challenge only from one of them, the liberal candidate, Ayman Nour, who has campaigned vigorously in spite of being thrown in prison for 44 days on what are widely considered trumped-up charges.

Three coalitions of civil groups petitioned an administrative court to enforce a ruling it made on Saturday permitting monitors to enter polling stations tomorrow to ensure there is no stuffing of ballot boxes, intimidation or other malfeasance.

A judicial source said the court would issue a decision today.

The Election Commission, which said Saturday it would ignore the court’s earlier ruling, surprised the rights groups yesterday by arguing against the injunction, implying it does accept the court’s jurisdiction.

The wrangling was part of an increasingly emotional tussle between the commission and groups seeking to ensure a fair and transparent election.

The United States has asked Mr. Mubarak to allow foreign observers of the polls, but he flatly refused. American and other Western criticism of the arrangements has been muted, evidently for fear of upsetting a key ally at a delicate time in Iraq and in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the main independent rights group, said: “The attitude of the Presidential Election Commission on election monitoring raises doubts and suspicion. … [Monitoring] would help create trust in the electoral process and confidence in the results.”

Nasser Amin of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary also said that monitoring was vital.

Other rights groups said they were mobilizing volunteers to monitor the election, if necessary without official approval or access to the polling stations.

One group said it had reports that large numbers of invalid voting cards were in circulation, possibly for use by people voting more than once in areas where they do not live.

The most prominent opposition contender is Mr. Nour of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, a recent offshoot of the old Wafd Party, who is running on a platform of ending corruption and alleviating the plight of the poor.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, is barred from fielding a candidate. Authorities rounded up some 1,500 Brotherhood members in recent months, evidently hoping to ensure good behavior by the movement’s militants before the balloting. Many have since been released.

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