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Muslim Brotherhood to Boycott Local Elections in Egypt After Crackdown


Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is urging its followers to boycott Tuesday's local council elections after the vast majority of its candidates were disqualified. VOA's Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood's leader issued a statement on the group's Web site urging followers to boycott Tuesday's election for more than 50,000 local council seats.

The group had earlier said it would participate, even in the face of a pre-election crackdown that has landed more than 800 of its members in jail. But a day before the poll, the Brotherhood said it had only been able to get 20 candidates onto the ballots as independents - a tiny fraction of the 10,000 contenders it tried to register - and said participating in such an election would add legitimacy to what it called a farce.

The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned, but is tolerated to some extent. Its candidates run as independents.

The group says it has won thousands of administrative court rulings that its candidates should be allowed to register, and it accused the government of ignoring the verdicts.

Essam El-Erian heads the Muslim Brotherhood's political bureau.

"Yes, it is a call for boycotting these polls, because there's actually no election! The members are selected by the police and appointed by the ruling party, and no competition at all in this election," said Essam El-Erian.

He said the group will take the government to court to have the election invalidated.

Secular opposition parties have also had many of their candidates disqualified, but the crackdown on the Brotherhood has been especially intense. New York-based Human Rights Watch last week called the arrests of the Muslim Brotherhood members "a shameless bid" to rig the vote.

The local elections come just two days after a nationwide general strike to protest stagnant wages and skyrocketing food prices. Police broke up most attempted protests in connection to the strike, and violent clashes erupted between police and demonstrators in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla.

El-Erian, who is seen as one of the Brotherhood's more moderate leaders, warned that the government's crackdowns are squeezing out the possibility for peaceful and democratic change that he and his fellow moderates within the Islamist movement have advocated.

"It is clear now, there is no desire or will in the government to have political reform or free and fair elections or any competition at all," he said. "This is an ideal prescription for explosion, which appeared yesterday in Egypt in the big response to the invitation to stay at home and in the clashes in El-Mahalla. This is the message for the regime - if he doesn't open the door of hope for the people to change peacefully, he is actually opening the doors of hell."

The Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s, and has participated in most Egyptian elections since the 1980s. In 2005, the group won about a fifth of the seats in parliament, making it the largest opposition block in the legislature. That result shocked the ruling party, and the government then postponed the local elections for two years.

Traditionally, local elections have had little significance in Egypt and have not been hotly contested. But these are the first since the constitution was amended last year, requiring a candidate for president to have the support of at least 140 members of local councils.

Opposition political activist and former newspaper publisher Hisham Kassem says that means more is at stake. He predicts that the ruling party will not be taking any chances.

"We're talking about probably the worst elections that Egypt has seen in its history, and I can confidently say that, in advance of them, because, while in the past the government rigged these elections when they really meant very little, but what you have at stake is a lot right now," said Hisham Kassem.

Analysts expect that the ruling National Democratic Party will win easy victories in the vast majority of the local council races, especially since most opposition candidates were kept off the ballots. In many districts, the ruling party candidates are running unopposed.

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