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Egypt's election: Watch this space

Commentary

The first round of Egypt's elections suffered from irregularities and unfair competition, yet this received little coverage abroad. This must change, especially if Egypt is to be thought of as a benchmark for political progress in the wider Middle East.

Despite wide anticipation of Egypt’s 2010 People’s Assembly elections, as a benchmark of the political direction of this critical Middle Eastern state in the coming years, there has been relatively little coverage of Sunday’s first round of polling. Egypt suffered from unfair competition in more ways than one: the WikiLeaks release that rocked the world trumped them for attention at the beginning of this week.

Seven human rights organisations valiantly tried to counter this, with a press conference on Monday in the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre in Downtown Cairo, to try to attract at least some coverage of an unfair election that had suffered anyway from a lack of national and international observers, since the Egyptian government had rejected requests. Moataz El Fegiery, from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network highlights that: “Independent NGOs were not able to get permission in order to monitor the elections. Even the few NGOs which obtained permission were not able to get inside the polling stations. A significant number of polling stations were closed several hours during the voting time and there are reasonable grounds to believe that ballots were stuffed in many polling stations.”

Egyptian observers have argued that this week’s elections are not the crucial ones; that the ones to watch are the Presidential round next year, in which Mubarak is hopeful that his son, Gamal, will succeed him. But clearly the People’s Assembly matters enough to Mubarak’s regime that he is willing use all the tricks in the book on the day, following sustained use of the Emergency Law in the run up to the elections to ban political meetings and rallies in order to ensure that he has an Assembly that will back his son’s inheritance of his power.

This suggests that creating a veneer of legitimacy is important to Mubarak. So those who would like to see democracy emerge in Egypt should not lose the opportunity to expose these elections for what they really are. If the Emperor has no clothes, then they should say so.

As the country awaits the release of the official results, the opposition are doing their bit: angry protests at the irregularities have occurred throughout the country. This must be embarrassing for the High Election Commission, which has claimed that though there may have been a few irregularities, these "did not undermine the electoral process as a whole."

EP President Jerzy Buzek has also done his bit, denouncing in a press statement the ‘tense climate’ in which the elections took place, and calling for the respect of the rule of law. Tellingly, he said that "A democratic Egypt is in the interests first and foremost of its citizens. For the EU a democratic Egypt is as important as a stable Egypt". This is an important statement since so often the EU avoids tricky questions like human rights abuses with key North African players, in order not to lose their co-operation on wider regional stability; migration, and trade.

What matters now, is how the rest of the EU backs up this statement in its wider policy towards Egypt over the coming months.  A cynic would say that the challenging statement came from the President of the European Parliament in order that business can continue as usual between Egypt and Ashton and her External Action Service. But hopefully that cynic will be proved wrong.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

Read more on: Human Rights, The Middle East and North Africa

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