CAIRO, (AFP) — Egyptian security forces were on high alert Saturday, on the eve of a general election, after activists clashed with police at the end of a campaign marred by violence and a crackdown on the opposition.
Thousands of activists demonstrated in support of their candidates throughout the Nile Delta and in the south of the country as campaigning for the vote came to an end on Friday night, said security officials.
Several of the rallies turned violent after supporters of rival candidates hurled stones at each other, they said.
Activists for the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group clashed with police in the southern Bani Suef governorate, and at least 15 protesters were arrested.
Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud, a lawyer for the Islamist group, said 22 of its members were arrested on Friday across the country.
The Brotherhood is expected to win far less than the fifth of parliamentary seats it captured in the last election in 2005, after at least 1,200 its supporters were arrested in the weeks before the vote.
Most of them have been released, but the group says more of its supporters are rounded up each day as they put up posters and hand out fliers.
The Brotherhood is fielding 130 candidates for the 508 elected seats after more than a dozen of its candidates were disqualified by the election committee.
The public prosecutor is investigating complaints by the ruling National Democratic Party that more of the Islamists should be disqualified because they are misrepresenting themselves as independents.
The group registers its candidates as independents to circumvent a ban on religious parties.
Several administrative courts have ordered the cancellation of elections in 24 of 254 districts after court orders to reinstate disqualified candidates, many of them Brotherhood members and other independents, were ignored.
Rights groups say the election has already been compromised by the arrests of opposition members and campaign restrictions on their candidates.
Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to safeguard the rights of voters in the election.
“The Egyptian authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and ensure that peaceful protesters are not arbitrarily arrested and detained,” the London-based rights group’s Middle East director, Malcolm Smart, said in a statement last week.
Voter turnout is expected to be low as usual in Egypt, where elections are often marred by violence and ballot fraud, according to rights groups.
The government insists the election will be fair and the electoral committee says it granted more than 6,000 permits to local civil society groups to monitor the vote and the ballot counting.
The NDP, which has dominated parliament for more than three decades, is expected to gain seats in parliament at the expense of the Brotherhood. It is running about 800 candidates.
Campaign restrictions on the remaining Brotherhood candidates and a low voter turnout amid fears of violence and widespread suspicion about the election’s integrity are expected to reduce the Islamists’ share.