Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Amnesty statement on arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members

BBC News is reporting that more than 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been rounded up and arrested in the days prior to the third and last round of voting in the parliamentary elections. The last round of voting begins Thursday.

Amnesty International has issued the following statement on the arrests:

"As Egyptians go to the polls on 1 December in the final stage of parliamentary elections, Amnesty International expressed concern about mass arrests of opposition party supporters and activists and criticized the government for failing to ensure voters are free from violence, arbitrary arrests and intimidation.

Hundreds of people suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), effectively the leading opposition organization, have been arrested since voting began in early November. Although officially banned, many candidates standing as independents are known to support the MB and areas in which the MB is known to have strong popular support have been the scene of mass arrests, including of several MB candidates. Up to 1500 MB activists and delegates of candidates were arrested in the last two weeks in various governorates, including Sharqiya, Duqahliya, Kafr Sheik, and Sohag, where the MB is putting up candidates for the final phase, and hundreds of others arrested earlier this month remain in detention. The current wave of arrests is reminiscent of a pattern which has seen previous mass arrests of Muslim Brothers at the time of presidential and parliamentary elections in an apparent attempt by the authorities to disrupt their election campaign.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the reaction of the authorities to the violence that broke out last week following clashes between supporters of different candidates. Scores of opposition supporters have been injured in attacks by rampaging government party supporters, often in front of police who, however, failed to take action to curb the violence or apprehend the perpetrators. Security officials are also reported to have prevented voters from casting their votes in some places and to have arrested local non-governmental election monitors or prevented them from accessing polling stations although they possessed official accreditation documents issued by the Ministry of Justice.

Amnesty International urges the government to take urgent and effective measures to prevent further human rights abuses and to ensure that Egypt's security and law enforcement officers act impartially in upholding the law."

The Brotherhood as well as human rights defenders in Egypt are saying this is a blatant attempt by the government to silence the group, which is proving to be a serious opponent to the ruling NDP. The arrests also come on the heels of allegations of government-sponsored violence in the last round of elections at voting sites where the MB enjoyed significant support.

These allegations have even attracted the attention of the United States government. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack characterized the reports as "sources of real concern" and stated that U.S. officials had raised the issue with Egyptian authorities.

The U.S. concerns are not likely to change much behavior of the U.S. government. Amnesty has also received a report that the trial of Ghad party leader Ayman Nour has restarted. Nour, who came in second place to President Mubarak in this year's presidential campaign, is charged with forging election petitions to get his party on the ballot. Many human rights activists believe the criminal charges are unwarranted and part of the government effort to silence an important political opponent.

When Nour faced trial earlier in 2005, it brought a strong condemnation from Secretary of State Condi Rice. The combination of the security force-directed election violence, the arrest of political opponents and the re-emergence of charges against Ayman Nour suggests the even the U.S. government, when it does do "the right thing," on human rights, is limited in its powers over the Mubarak government.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More about the parliamentary elections:

-- The ICEM has issued another report on the latest round of elections again shining light on elections abuses. The committee writes, "As a result of the new instructions from the Minister of the Interior, ICEM did in fact witness a stronger security presence at the polling sites. However, rather than having the desirable effect of facilitating the voting process, it was instead utilized to advantage the NDP. This occurred at a large number of the polling stations in districts where Muslim Brotherhood candidates were running."

-- The New York Times assesses the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the election, saying the group's jump to at least 75 seats (which will make it by far the largest opposition group in the parliament, giving it almost one-fourth of the seats) was a result of a desire of change, not an upsurge in religious feeling. The Times quotes "We voted for many people over the years, and they did nothing for us," said Muhammad Lotfi, 31, a driver who said he was tired of having to constantly bribe the local traffic police in order to avoid troubles. "Now, we want the Brotherhood. Maybe they will do something for the people, for the youth. The water here is not even drinkable."

-- Agence France Press questions whether the Muslim Brothers could ever take power in Egypt. The report notes that both MB leaders and political analysts are careful to avoid any comparison with Algeria, where an Islamist victory in elections led to a military takeover and years of violence.

-- Meanwhile The London-based Ash Sharq Al Awsat asks whether the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood "may be the beginning of an Iranian-style Ayatollah era in Egypt".

My own feeling is that the election underscored the dual nature of Egyptian politics. While Amnesty International has long raised concerns about human rights abuses, we have also recognized and supported the many voices both within the government and outside of it that calls for reform and democracy and human rights. What we saw with the "unleashing" of the security forces at election time was the security side of the government flexing its muscle. But before we assume that this is Mubarak politics as usual, let's recognize that movement is happening here, a movement from which, if supported, there will be no turning back. The reformers have new tools to work with, and the security forces may find their usual techniques of repression are becoming less and less effective.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Independent Committee for Election Monitoring (ICEM) has released the following report on the last round of elections in Egypt. Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern about election violence preventing the full flourishing of free and independent elections in Egypt: During the previous election cycle, an Amnesty observer was among those attacked and injured at a polling site by groups believed to be allied with the security forces.

While there's always attention given to election violence, Amnesty believes that this is systemmatic of a general atmosphere of "continuing, widespread violations, including systematic use torture, deaths in custody, impunity for human rights perpetrators, and restrictions on freedom of expression and association." These human rights violations persist despite repeated calls for government action to address them made by UN human rights bodies and both national and international human rights organizations. In short, the way to freer elections in Egypt is through a general push for better human rights in Egypt, including the elimination of torture, administrative detention, unfair trials and assaults on free speech and association that continue to muzzle civil society.

Statement by the ICEM:
Heightened Levels of Violence Mars Election

Sunday, November 20, 2005 4:00 PM

Since early this morning, ICEM had been receiving reports of violent incidents throughout Egypt. Reports reveal a systematic and planned campaign of intimidation against opposition voters, in particular, Muslim Brotherhood supporters and candidates. These incidents have ranged from assault and battery to homicide. ICEM condemns in the strongest possible terms this and all types of violence. Thus far, the violent incidents have posed the greatest challenge to the fairness of the elections and have severely prevented voters from freely expressing their will. As the election process unfolds, it is becoming obvious that there is an organized campaign of violence with little or no effective police intervention or prevention. The organized campaign of violence not only provides for a truly unacceptable background for any democratic process but furthermore discredits the election outcome.

Violent Incidents

In Alexandria, there has been a string of violent occurrences today. In the Mancheya district, a demonstration by supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mahmoud Atteya who were denied access to the polling station were attacked by security forces and thugs, resulting in four hospitalizations and one fatality. In Al-Montaza district, groups of thugs destroyed six cars, attacked bystanders randomly, and killed one taxi driver. Also, Saif Al-Qaberi, an NDP candidate running in the Mancheya district, was stabbed by a group of thugs. And finally, a group of Muslim Brotherhood supporters broke into the Mari Gergis Church in Al-Amareya district, setting fire to the establishment.

In the first district of Ismaelia, a demonstration by Muslim Brotherhood supporters was severely repressed by police officers who shot into the crowd. There were also thugs present who assaulted the demonstrators with knives and clubs.

In the Qaabuty district of Port Said, a group of thugs assaulted Muslim Brotherhood voters with knives in the Ahad, Tabooty and Saad Zaghloul schools. And in the first district, Ibrahim Saad, a man with history of violent crime, assaulted women and children with a knife and injured a veiled Muslim Brotherhood supporter. In the second district of the same governorate, the police withdrew all of their forces which gave thugs the opportunity to assault opposition supporters, leaving the opposition candidate Mohammed Al-Nazmy injured. There are also reports that there is a roaming group of thugs, traveling in an organized fashion from polling station to polling station, with the intention of threatening and intimidating voters. This is happening without intervention from the police.

In the Berma district of Gharbia, at Al-Tarbia Al-Fikria School, massive disputes erupted between NDP and Muslim Brotherhood supporters following the decision of the judge to expel all poll-watchers.

In Beharya, Bandar Damanhoor district, severe injuries and destruction resulted from fights that broke out among the Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Mohammed Gamal Heshmat and the supporters of the NDP candidate.

Independent Committee For

Election Monitors