ALEXANDRIA, Egypt | Protesters set fire to cars, tires and two polling stations, clashing with police firing tear gas in riots that erupted around Egypt on Monday over allegations the ruling party carried out widespread fraud to sweep parliamentary elections.
The country’s most powerful opposition movement, the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, acknowledged that its lawmakers may be all but completely swept out of parliament by what it and others called rampant rigging.
That’s a significant blow to the group, which held 88 seats - a fifth - of the outgoing parliament, and it is widely believed that it was the government goal to drive out its only real rival’s lawmakers. The election showed the Brotherhood’s limited options after repeated crackdowns in past years - including the arrest of some 1,400 of its activists in the weeks ahead of the vote.
Brotherhood figures admitted they could do little to stop vote rigging, fearing that protests could make their movement appear violent and bring a harsher crackdown amid uncertain political times.
“We were very restrained and were given instructions from up top to be extremely restrained,” said Sobhi Saleh, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. “We want to show the world that we are not thugs, we will not resort to violence.”
Sunday’s parliamentary vote was overshadowed by a presidential election set for next year, which is clouded in uncertainty because the man who has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades, 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak, has had health issues and underwent surgery earlier this year.
Many believe Mr. Mubarak is positioning his son, Gamal, to succeed him, but there is widespread public opposition to any “inheritance” of power.
Mr. Saleh said the Brotherhood was hoping that over the long term the rigging would discredit the ruling National Democratic Party in the public eye and draw people to the movement.
“We have a vision. There is no doubt we will have a new president in the next two years at least. Either Hosni who is ill, or his son - who is disliked,” he said. “When I lose seats this time, I will gain sympathy on the street. People know these elections were rigged.”
A coalition of local and international rights groups Monday reported that the balloting was marred by widespread rigging after the government prevented monitoring. It said opposition candidate representatives and independent monitors who were supposed to be allowed to watch the voting were barred from almost all polling stations around the country, allowing officials to stuff ballot boxes.
Though official results are not due until Tuesday, candidate supporters around the country took to the streets in anger after hearing word their favorites lost.