'Message' Campaign for Egyptians Barred From Ballot

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 11, 2007

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, June 10 -- Salah Noman Mubarak did his bit as a candidate for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood movement ahead of Monday's parliamentary elections: He planted big, smacking kisses on beaming constituents. Held earnest policy discussions over glasses of tea. Dropped in at the markets to chat up the men around the shisha water pipes.

But Mubarak, 54, a factory technician, has a few campaign problems. He was barred from all public forms of canvassing and was not allowed on the ballot, and so stands no chance of winning.

Under constitutional amendments secured by President Hosni Mubarak's government in March, nearly half of the candidates for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic opposition group, have been disqualified, leaving 19 on the ballots nationwide. The upper house elections Monday will be the first national vote since the amendments were adopted.

Security forces also have arrested about 800 Brotherhood members since December in one of the largest crackdowns in the recent history of the 80-year-old movement.

In Alexandria, none of the four Brotherhood candidates made it on the ballot. The city of 5 million has the largest number of Muslim Brotherhood lawmakers in the lower house of any city in Egypt after winning eight seats in 2005 elections. The Brotherhood has 88 seats in the 454-member lower house.

Calling Monday's vote an election in name only, some of the four Brotherhood contenders who were blocked from the ballot have kept on campaigning.

"I can always speak about the programs we would do if we were able to," said candidate Mubarak, a mild-mannered, mid-level manager who favors short-sleeve shirts with pens in his pocket rather than robes and headdresses.

"We consider it less of a political campaign than a message," said Ali Abdel Fattah, a Brotherhood coordinator here. "The message is, if they are threatening the Brotherhood, we are willing to face arrests for our point of view, and we will hold our ground. It is a message of defiance."

President Mubarak's government intensified its crackdown on the Brotherhood in December, saying that a march by masked, black-clad student members in Cairo showed that the group was developing a military wing. In January, Mubarak said the Brotherhood was a threat to national security and foreign investment.

The government urged passage of the amendments in the March referendum, saying the changes were part of an effort to slowly move the country toward democratic reform. Human Rights Watch and other international groups called the changes a rollback in human rights. International observers said the vote was flawed.

The Brotherhood has been outlawed here since 1954 but fields candidates as independents. The group represents itself as moderate, renouncing global holy war and working for change through elections to distinguish it from more extremist Islamic groups.

The national referendum amended the constitution to give limited legislative powers to the upper house of parliament, previously an advisory body. Other changes enshrined legal prohibitions against religiously based political parties, removed requirements that judges supervise voting in elections, made it easier for the president to dissolve parliament and allowed the suspension of constitutional civil liberties in cases the government deems involve terrorism.

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