- The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of the upcoming local and municipal elections in Egypt on 8 April, citing the government's continuing mass round-up of opposition activists and would-be candidates.
In recent weeks, Egyptian security forces have arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge more than 800 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, including 148 would-be candidates.
The roundups are viewed as yet another sign of the government's attack on the Brotherhood. But the group's leadership said its candidates would contest the polls from jail if necessary.
A week ago, a military tribunal postponed until 15 April - a week after the polls - a verdict in the trial of 40 leading Muslim Brotherhood members charged with belonging to a banned group and possessing anti-government literature.
A criminal court had dismissed charges against 17 of the defendants, including the group's deputy Supreme Guide, Khairat al-Shatir, but President Hosni Mubarak ordered the transfer of the cases to a military tribunal.
The defendants - except four being tried in absentia - have been detained for more than a year.
“These ongoing mass arrests of opposition activists, on top of the military trial, are a shameless bid to fix the upcoming elections,” said Joe Stork, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch.
“President Mubarak apparently believes that the outcome of the elections cannot be left up to voters,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood had wanted to register 5,754 candidates on independent tickets across the country.
But only 498 applications have been accepted, prompting the group to file complaints against the electoral committees at the local administrative courts. The court ruled that nomination papers of 2,664 Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated candidates had been improperly rejected, but it was not clear whether the state will accept the rulings.
“The government has not charged any of the 800 detained Muslim Brotherhood members with actual crimes,” Stork said. “It should release them now and allow fair elections.”
Local council elections were initially scheduled for April 2006, but the government postponed them following the strong showing of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated candidates in national legislative elections in 2005.
“The ruling National Democratic Party heavily dominates the local councils, and President Mubarak seems determined to keep it that way, whatever the cost to his government’s legitimacy,” Stork said.
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