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NGO Dispute Means Fewer Monitors for Egypt Vote

STATE DEPARTMENT - Egyptians go to the polls this week to choose their first democratically-elected president. A continuing legal dispute over the role of U.S. civil society groups means there will be fewer monitors to observe that vote.

Egypt's historic presidential campaign comes to a close with the first round of voting to choose a new civilian leader.

The Elections Commission says there will be monitors from the Arab League, the African Union, and the European Commission. But there will be far fewer Americans observing this vote because of the pending prosecution of members of three U.S. non-governmental organizations charged with improperly using funds and failing to register with authorities.

"Because of the whole NGO scandal and sort of the attack on foreign funding, this is going to be at a much smaller scale than it was for the parliamentary elections and than it should be," said Michele Dunne, with Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. "There will be some monitoring going on. It'll be small scale. And at the same time, the elections themselves will be much larger scale."

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Dunne says the size of this vote could overwhelm monitors. "The presidential election is even clearer and more exciting than the parliamentary elections were. So potentially, there are 52 million eligible voters, we could see 30 million or something like that turning out," she explained.

Dunne says she is also concerned about potential challenges to the outcome, as there is no clear procedure for appealing Elections Commission rulings.

Elections Commission Secretary General Hatem Begato says the integrity of the process is beyond question. "It is not in the interest of anybody to rig these elections," he said. "The higher presidential elections commission is made up of judges. These judges did not volunteer to monitor the elections. They were invited to, and they accepted the responsibility with pride."

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland says the Obama administration remains hopeful that this vote will be a good one. "I think we are continuing to call on the election - electoral commission to do its job and meet the expectations of the Egyptian people that this will be free, it’ll be fair, it’ll be transparent," she stated. "That there will be appropriate recourse if there are concerns and that that’ll be a transparent process as well."

Observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center are permitted to monitor this election. But they say they may not be able to determine whether the vote is free and fair because of electoral commission restrictions on their movements.