Egyptian soldier guards as Egyptians line up to vote 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Egypt began its first free parliamentary elections in decades on Monday, a day
after protesters in Cairo continued their week-long rally against the military
council and its hand-picked choice of prime minister.
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The optimism that
accompanied president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February has given way to
trepidation, as more than 42 people have been killed and 2,000 wounded in
clashes with security forces since Saturday. Many Egyptians are also concerned
over whether voting will be free, fair and nonviolent.
ballot that began on Monday is the start of an election process that could take
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised
presidential elections and a transfer to civilian rule by July 1. But
demonstrators in Tahrir Square – the center of the anti-Mubarak revolt – want
the council to make way for a civilian interim administration immediately.
Activists called for a mass rally to pile pressure on the generals, and by
mid-afternoon there were thousands in the square.
The outgoing cabinet
angered many Egyptians by floating proposals that would have given the army
sweeping national security powers and protected it from civilian scrutiny. Last
week the entire cabinet bowed to popular pressure and quit, but protesters are
unhappy with the choice of 78-year-old Kamal Ganzouri to form its
Bassam Sharaf, among the protesters outside parliament, said
the objection to Ganzouri was not his age, but the policies he pursued as prime
minister under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999.
“Two-thirds of the ministers
that Ganzouri appointed in his day are now in Tora prison,” he said, referring
to Mubarak-era officials accused of corruption and other offenses who were put
on trial after the uprising that swept Mubarak from power.
have received tacit support from Islamist parties – chief among them the Muslim
Brotherhood – eager that nothing should disrupt voting in the first of three
rounds of an election in which they expect to do well.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the council, said the army would ensure
security at the polling booths.
“We are at a crossroads.
only two routes, the success of elections leading Egypt toward safety or facing
dangerous hurdles that we in the armed forces, as part of the Egyptian people,
will not allow,” he declared.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Futuh, an Islamist
presidential candidate who opposes military rule, said, “The nation is larger
than Field Marshal Tantawi and Lt.- Gen. Sami Enan and the military council. A
government with revolutionary leadership must be formed to meet the demands of
State television quoted Tantawi as saying the army’s role
of protecting the nation would be unchanged in the new constitution.
protesters favor Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, who
has offered to drop his campaign for the presidency and to lead a government of
ElBaradei is respected among pro-democracy campaigners
and has a high international profile, but many Egyptians view him as out of
touch because he spent much of his career abroad.
Mohamed Badie, leader
of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, which hopes the election will catapult it
into a strong place in mainstream politics, offered Ganzouri qualified support,
depending on the powers and makeup of his cabinet.
conspiratorial hands were behind the unrest.
“There are powers inside and
outside Egypt that don’t want stability for Egypt or development, and this is
something that is being pushed and paid for,” Badie said late on
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya – which led an armed insurgency against
Mubarak during Ganzouri’s government in the 1990s and now says it has renounced
violence – said it would not join the protesters in Tahrir, criticizing them for
trying to “force a certain prime minister on Egypt,” an apparent reference to
The Salafi Islamist Nour Party said it would meet Ganzouri in
the next few days to propose names for his cabinet.
drawn-out election to parliament’s lower house concludes in early
Voting for the upper house and the presidency will follow before
the end of June. A confusing array of candidates and parties, and fears of
bullying, bribery and violence at polling stations, poise voters a daunting
Protesters appear split over the timing of the election, and
some do not trust the military to ensure a free vote. Others say the poll should
not be a casualty of the campaign against military rule.
“This is one
thing, that is something else. Everyone will be in the polling stations come
Monday,” said Abdul Aal Diab, a 46-year-old state employee protesting in
“Why are you so sure?” interrupted Mustafa Essam, 27. “I won’t
go. I have no faith in anyone.”