There was a special election for a parliamentary seat in this provincial capital today but the people's choice, Kamal Eddin Hussein, did not win it.
He was not even on he ballot. He probably would have won if he had been, but the government of President Anwar Sadat prevented it.
The eight candidates who were on the ballot apparently stirred little enthusiasm among the 200,000 residents of Benha and the atmosphere at the polls was desultory.
To many Egyptians, the election in this town 300 miles north of Cairo is symbolie of the political situation in the country as a whole.
After seven years in office, Sadat has liberalized the polotical system so that there are free elections and a real choice among candidates with differing views. The eventual winner will have the rights to criticize the government when he takes his seat in the People's Assembly, and his criticisms may be reported in the press.
But there are still lines that Egyptians are not permitted to cross and unwritten rules they mzy not violate. When Sadat and his aides think anyone has gone too far, they move quickly and with a heavy hand. That is what happened to Kamal Eddin Hussein.
The truckloands of baton-equipped military police at the polling places and the high-ranking officials of the Ministry of the Interior who were on hand today to keep order had little to do.
"You see," said, Gen. Mohammed Menyawi, the province governor, switching off the Bartok tape on his cassette player, "everything is normal." It appeared to be, in contrast to the boisterous vigor with which urban Egyptians often mark election day.
Hussein, The missing candidate, is a veteran political figure and a former vice president. Like Sadat, he was one of the original group of military officers who helped Gamal Abdel Naudr overthrow the monarchy in 1962. He later fell out with Nasset over the latter's leftists police and spent several years under house arrest.
Like sources of other political and intellectual figures, he was freed by Sadat after Nasser's death. Last fall, Hussein was elected to the Parliament and an independent member from Benha.
But he did not last long. He was expelled by a 281-26 vote of his colleague for a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] worded criticism of tough anti-riot laws that Sadat imposed after the food price riots that swept the country in January.
He was no the only one to criticize the new laws, but he did so outside the legislature, is an open letter to newspapers. Even many who agreed with him felt that his language was in-temperature. So he was ousted, in a vote that showed how thoroughly the pro-government majority dominates parliament. His seat was declared vacant.
He had sought to win it back in today's election, and there was excitement in Cairo political circles last week when a court upheld his right to be a candidate. The decision was reported to have been greeted by public celebrations and rejoicing here.
But two days later, Parliament at a late-night session passed a law prohibiting anyone who had been expelled to be elected to Parliament again. Hussein is the only person in this category.
Some Egyptians privately have criticized the move as unnecessary, as political overkill that lessens the credibility of the whole electoral system. But the public criticism has been muted. Sadat, by using Parliament in this fashion, can go in insisting that "rule of law" has replaced the dictatorial practices of the Nasser era.