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Egypt: No foreign monitors in upcoming election

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CAIRO — Egypt will not allow international groups to monitor its upcoming parliamentary election, the country’s military rulers announced Wednesday, echoing ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s argument that foreign electoral oversight would be an affront to Egyptian sovereignty.

Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shahin, a spokesman for the ruling military supreme council, said during a news conference that only Egyptian monitoring groups would be allowed to watch the polls. Foreign monitors, he added, “would interfere with the sovereignty of Egypt.”

The United States and others in the international community have long pressed Egypt to allow foreign monitors into polling stations, a practice that has lent credibility to elections in nascent democracies such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ban on foreign monitors gave Mubarak’s National Democratic Party tremendous leeway to rig elections during the three decades that he ruled Egypt claiming to be a rightfully elected statesman.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was the latest U.S. official to publicly call for international observers in Egypt’s upcoming vote. After a meeting last month with Egypt’s de facto leader, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, McCain said the military leader was open to the suggestion.

The credibility of parliamentary elections expected to take place in the fall could cement or erode Egyptians’ faith in the prospect that democracy will take root in a nation scarred by decades of autocratic rule.

“Everyone expects that the next elections will be much freer and fairer than anything before,” a Western diplomat said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal Egyptian affairs. “Having international monitors would help certify that.”

Shahin said the ruling generals would announce election dates in September. He said Egyptians would elect a new parliament during three election days over the course of a month sometime after September and before the end of the year.

The general said half of the parliamentary seats would go to candidates elected through a party list system, which gives parties the authority to distribute seats. The remaining half would go to candidates running as independents, he said.

The Egyptian parliament consists of an upper house, known as the Shura Council, and a lower chamber, known as the People’s Assembly. The generals say a president will be elected after the new parliament is seated.

NDP loyalists dominated the old Egyptian parliament, which did little to challenge the executive branch. Activists hope incoming lawmakers will serve as a counterweight to the president and the country’s powerful military.

Shahin did not respond to questions about an ongoing effort by the country’s top generals to enshrine the military’s robust role in government before a civilian government is elected and a new constitution is ratified.

Many observers believe the generals are seeking a muscular role in the post-Mubarak era, possibly through a bill of rights that would set the guidelines for drafting the new constitution.

Special correspondent Sulafeh Al Shami contributed to this report.

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