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Egypt: Votes Being Counted After Presidential Vote

Vote counting is under way in Egypt's first contested presidential elections. Incumbent President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for the past 24 years, is widely expected to emerge as the winner. Meanwhile, opposition members and also independent observers said today that Mubarak’s camp had massively violated electoral law during the poll.

Prague, 8 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It was Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections but it was far from being free and fair.

Muhammad Alsawi, the coordinator for monitoring elections at the Egyptian Organization For Human Rights, told RFE/RL from Cairo: “We have [received reports] about lots of violations that happened around Egypt such as shipping people to vote, forcing people to vote, there were no curtains so that people [could] vote behind it and in some polling stations there was no ink so [voters were not being marked and prevented from voting again].”

Vote buying, intimidation, ballot stuffing, and harassment of monitors are some of the other irregularities reported by opposition members and observers.

Alsawi said the elections were only a small step forward in the country’s political process as the fraud charges tarnished the presidential poll. “I think the Egyptian government [had] a great chance to show that they really want fair elections and show all people that there is a new political life in Egypt but I think they failed yesterday,” he said.

Despite such criticism, government officials and some Egyptian newspapers have praised the vote. Gamal Mubarak, the son of Hosni Mubarak, today described the polls as “a turning point in Egypt’s history “ and predicted an overwhelming victory for his father.

The 77-year-old President Mubarak, who is seeking a fifth six-year term, had nine challengers. But only two of them are considered serious: Nomaan Gomaa, head of the nationalist liberal Wafd party, and Ayman Nour from the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party .

Preliminary results reportedly show that Mubarak is leading with some 70 percent of the votes. Nour is said to be some distance behind him in second place with Gomaa following close behind.

Nour has said that the elections had not been "not fair at all," and has vowed to reject rigged results. He has also criticized the voting system. "The real problem is that half the Egyptians are deprived of voting," he said. "The idea of voting only through voting ID's cancels this right to 50 percent of the Egyptians and we don't understand why we deprive 50 percent of the Egyptians to vote for their president."

Ayman Nour said today he would call for a rerun of yesterday's elections.

Last night, Egyptian Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi acknowledged that there were some problems. But he emphasized the significance of the vote and said it will bring more freedom and democracy in the Egyptian society.

The United States has also hailed the Egyptian vote and said that is “a historical departure for Egypt.”

“I think it's safe to say that Egyptians have not seen a presidential election like the one they have just seen in their lifetimes," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters last night. "I also think that the political debate that unfolded around these elections, both prior to and during the actual campaign period, is something that will enrich the Egyptian political dialogue for years to come. It is a beginning.“

He added that the United States expects President Mubarak to follow promises he made during his campaign, one of which is “the lifting of the state of emergency.”

Turnout in yesterday’s elections is reported by opposition members as having been low. Some government officials have said that turnout reached 30 percent across the country.

Diyaa Rashwan, a political analyst from Al-Ahram Research Center, yesterday predicted a low turnout. "I think that concerning the turnover, the participation of Egyptians, it will not be strong," he said. "It will be weak, as usual."

Egypt's largest opposition group, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, was barred by the government from fielding candidates in the race. However, it did not call for supporters to boycott the election.

Elections officials have three days to announce the final elections results.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.