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Allegations of Irregularity, Apathy, and Violence Mark Egyptian Elections

Independent observers and opposition groups are accusing the Egyptian government of intimidating voters and candidates, and tampering with parliamentary elections. Cache Seel reports for VOA from Qanater that violence and low voter turnout are being reported across the country.

Nearly 600 candidates are competing for the 88 elected seats in Egypt's upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council.

For the first time Egypt's banned, but tolerated, opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is fielding candidates for the Shura Council elections. The group, which has been banned since 1954, runs candidates as independents. Hundreds of members of the group, including a candidate, have been arrested in a government crackdown since the announcement the group would contest 19 seats.

Deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Habib, says the group does not know how many of its members are being held.

"We cannot determine the number of detainees, because it is constantly increasing and changing from one second to another," Habib said.

He lists a series of charges against the government ranging from mass arrests to closing polling stations and fabricating votes.

Shura roughly translates into English as "consultative". The powers of the council are much more limited than the lower house of parliament, called the People's Assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood won roughly 20 percent of the People's Assembly in the last round of parliamentary elections.

At the Manshiyat Al-Qanater polling station, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Sa'id Saleh complained of intimidation and harassment by the police since he announced his candidacy. This highlights the importance of the election he says.

"Our cause is reform. We are working for reform and against corruption," he said. "Corruption is widespread and we need to work on ending it."

The Sawasiya Human Rights Center has election monitors in most of Egypt's governorates, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud the head of the center, says he is receiving numerous reports of irregularities.

"Most of the violations," he says, "are occurring in the areas that have Muslim Brotherhood candidates."

Monitors from his group say that ruling party supporters were being bused in, voters were being intimidated, and ballot boxes were being stuffed.

The government denied the claims.

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said the elections are being monitored by a committee that includes media experts, representatives of the candidates, and non-governmental organizations. The government also registered 400 correspondents, who had full access to every polling station in Egypt.

Candidate Sa'id Saleh's daughter, Mariam Sa'id, says she witnessed ballot box tampering.

"I was here when it opened at eight o'clock," she said. "I went in to vote and the box was glass. Later when my aunt came to the same station the box was wooden."

Violence was reported at several polling stations across Egypt. At least one person has been killed and three others seriously wounded in clashes between supporters of a ruling party candidate and an independent.

According to the Sawasiya Center, voter turnout is extremely low in most areas. Early estimates suggest that the national average will not exceed seven percent.