Egypt's leading nongovernmental rights group said Monday that it did not expect the country's first multi-candidate presidential vote to be fair, citing inadequate independent supervision and a lack of transparency.
The concerns of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights echo criticism by other groups about the make-up of the election oversight committee and its decision to bar access to polling stations for independent observers.
President Hosni Mubarak, 77, in power for 24 years, is widely expected to win the Sept. 7 election against nine other contestants. But he has pledged a fair fight.
"I don't expect we will reach a fair or true result because steps until now by the [election] committee have shown a lot of arbitrariness and a lack of transparency," said the organization's secretary general, Hafez Abu Seada.
Rights groups want to monitor the voting to ensure there is no repeat of the violence and reports of harassment that marred the 2000 parliamentary elections, won by Mubarak's National Democratic Party. But they complain that the election committee has ignored their requests.
The committee says only judges and candidates' representatives will be allowed in polling stations. The government says it sees no need for foreign monitors.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on Egypt to rethink its stance. "We urge the Egyptian government to allow in election monitors, election observers," he told reporters. "This is not a comment on any particular government or the state of their democracy. It is something that is commonly done."
Abu Seada said his group has trained about 600 monitors and plans to train more. They would watch for abuses outside polling stations and could at least enter to vote, which would give them a chance to check for signs of malpractice, he added.
"It is not possible to describe any elections as democratic or impartial without an observer presence," the organization said in a report about the election process.
The 23-page report also said that since the campaign began on Aug. 17, state television had been relatively neutral in its coverage but that the state-controlled press was supporting Mubarak despite instructions to be neutral. "The national newspapers have been conscripted for daily propaganda for the candidate of the ruling National Democratic Party," the report said.
It cited examples where al-Ahram, the leading state paper, virtually dedicated its front page to Mubarak while rivals received a line or were only covered in the inside pages.
Osama Soraya, al-Ahram's editor in chief, has said his paper is not biased. He said Mubarak's campaign simply generated more news than his rivals.
Mubarak's campaign says it has been playing strictly by the rules. Campaign officials say, for example, that they have not used hotels that may be partly state owned or public property, like state-owned stadiums, for Mubarak's campaign meetings.
A separate group of 10 nongovernmental organizations, in a report issued Monday, also said state press was biased in favor of Mubarak.