REED LYNDSAY, TRNN: Here in Helwan, a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Cairo, it’s easy to see why Egypt’s ruling party is expected to win Sunday’s parliamentary elections in a landslide. The National Democratic Party’s candidate here is this man, Sayed Meshaal, a member of President Hosni Mubarak’s cabinet in charge of military production. The opposition accused Meshaal of buying votes, after recently published photographs appear to show him handing out money to a crowd of people. On election day, bands blaring music circled the polling stations, urging voters to cast their ballots for Meshaal. A group of cheerleaders sings praises. They decline to be interviewed, deferring to their boss.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We don’t see any money. That doesn’t happen. He’s a minister. Why would he give out money? He already does more than he should and it takes a lot of effort. He doesn’t buy votes.
LYNDSAY: Campaigning on election day is illegal, but the police don’t seem to mind. Meanwhile, the National Democratic Party, or NDP, brings in its voters by the busload.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Yes, he has money. He distributes money and meat and everything else to get votes.
CROWD: We don’t want money!
LYNDSAY: Meshaal’s opponent, Mostafa Bakry, also has his supporters, but their resources seem meager in comparison.
MOHAMMED ABDULLAH, OPPOSITION SUPPORTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Mr. Mostafa Bakry’s campaign doesn’t have much money. Mr. Sayed Meshaal’s campaign cost as much as $10 million. Where did he get such money? He’s a minister. Why does he want political immunity? Why does he want all of this?
LYNDSAY: Women vote in a separate polling station down the road, but the scene is similar. Young NDP supporters with white T-shirts are directed by a scowling supervisor. The police seem more interested in the journalists and unconvinced by the government-issued permit. Meanwhile, opposition party delegates claim they are unfairly barred from entering the polling places that supervise the voting.
KHAIRIYYAH, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SUPPORTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): First of all, he’s a minister. He took advantage of his authority. As the Muslim Brotherhood, we were prevented from campaigning on the streets. The minister did all the campaigning. As an opposition party we weren’t allowed to distribute any flyers of our own. The minister brings people from his factories to gain votes.
LYNDSAY: In the village of /ak."ta/, far from journalists and monitors, the accusations of fraud and intimidation are even stronger. This is a stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood, the most important opposition group in Egypt, even though the government prohibits them from becoming a political party. Independent candidates affiliated with the Brotherhood won a surprising 20 percent of the seats in Parliament in the 2005 elections, the most important victory for the opposition since Mubarak came to power 29 years ago. But the president seems determined to roll back these gains this time around. In the run-up to the election, the government arrested more than 1,200 of the group’s members and broke up their candidates’ rallies. Election Day in /ak."ta/ is no easier for the Brotherhood.
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD DELEGATE (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): He doesn’t want to let me in. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters aren’t allowed to get in. I have the proper paperwork that enables me to get in.
LYNDSAY: The women’s polling station is even more chaotic.
OPPOSITION SUPPORTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The police officers don’t want to let us in. And the polling center is completely empty. We have the paperwork, but they don’t want to let us in.
LYNDSAY: This Muslim Brotherhood voter said she was turned away when she tried to vote. Others forced their way into the polling station before police stopped them.
ALI FATH AL-BAB, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD CANDIDATE (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I want to say that today there are no elections. This is our village. As you can see, the security forces are mocking us. They’re not allowing people to enter the polling station. There’s nobody to watch what’s happening. They have the ability to tamper with the ballots.
LYNDSAY: Back in Cairo, an NDP candidate roams the streets of downtown with his entourage. He refutes accusations of fraud and intimidation.
ABDUL AZIZ MUSTAFA, NDP CANDIDATE (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): This is not true at all. The other parties are making this up. Everybody voted and everybody was present.
LYNDSAY: The truth is most Egyptians don’t even bother to vote. The turnout was around 20 percent 5 years ago. It’s expected to be even lower this time.
ABDUL RAHMAN HANY, UNIVERSITY STUDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): They’ve been there for 30 years–30 years of emergency law, 30 years of lack of freedom of religion, of no freedom of expression. All of that because of the emergency law. Why would I vote for the NDP? Why would I participate in an election where I know the end result is determined, where the election is rigged?
LYNDSAY: If the number of ballots in these urns is any indication, apathy in Egypt’s political process is stronger than ever, and the litany of denunciations of irregularities and outright fraud in this election isn’t likely to inspire more confidence in the country’s so-called democracy.
AHMED SALAD, ACTIVIST: We’ve been observing all sorts of irregularities in different places, vote-buying everywhere. And worst of all, as the day is approaching its end, real rigging takes place. Okay, inside you can see on the floor lots of ballot cards at the entrance before the counting area, which means that they fell off the boxes that were open and broken, as we have seen them, coming in from the main street. And this election is so much worse than the election in 2005. I’ve never seen such massive, blunt way of trying to manipulate everything.
LYNDSAY: Behind me, electoral officials are counting the votes, but result is taken for granted. Hosni Mubarak and his party are trying to consolidate their absolute majority in the Parliament before presidential elections in 2011, and the consensus here is that they’ll do so, whatever the cost may be. For The Real News, Reed Lindsay, Cairo.
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