CAIRO,(Reuters) – U.S. failure to criticise Egypt over the arrest of opposition activists and the intimidation of voters in elections has made a mockery of Washington”s commitment to Middle East democracy, a rights group said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the U.S. State Department that its comments on Egypt”s parliamentary elections were "utterly disconnected from the reality of what is happening in Egypt today".
The elections are spread over six days and conclude on Wednesday.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday said Washington had not received "any indication that the Egyptian government isn”t interested in having peaceful, free and fair elections".
Monitors have reported the use of armed thugs by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to intimidate voters during the elections, in which the Muslim Brotherhood has posed the strongest opposition challenge.
Police arrested hundreds of campaign workers from the Brotherhood, an officially banned Islamist group, last week ahead of voting on Thursday. The Brotherhood fields candidates for parliament as independents to sidestep the official ban.
Riot police have deployed around polling stations in opposition strongholds, letting few if any voters through. The NDP has resorted to bribery to get out the vote, monitors say.
Human Rights Watch said in its Dec. 2 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that McCormack”s remarks badly served "those many Egyptians who have voted or attempted to vote in the face of this pattern of violence, intimidation and fraud.
"It badly undermines the administration”s credibility, including your own, when it speaks of its commitment to democratic freedoms in Egypt and the region," the group said.
The United States earlier this year put public pressure on Egypt, a close ally, to allow more political freedoms.
President Hosni Mubarak”s decision to allow the country”s first multi-candidate presidential election this year was widely seen by analysts as a result of U.S. pressure.
The Brotherhood was blocked from contesting that election by tight terms on candidacy.
The Islamists, who are opposed to U.S. policy in much of the region, have increased their strength in parliament more than five-fold so far. The NDP is close to securing the two-thirds majority it needs to maintain control over the constitution.
The Brotherhood said the authorities had robbed them of 13 or 14 wins by denying their supporters access to the polls on Thursday. The government has blamed much of the violence on the Brotherhood.