Election pullout still an option, Brotherhood member says

On the eve of the elections, a leading Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member and parliamentarian, Mohamed el-Beltagy, tells Al-Masry Al-Youm that the possibility of an eleventh-hour withdrawal from the elections "cannot be excluded" due to obstacles faced by many MB candidates. El-Beltagy, a former  speaker for the MB parliamentary bloc and a candidate in the working class neighborhood of Shubra el-Kheima, discusses today's race.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: You have personally been struggling to get power-of-attorney permits for MB polling station delegates, who will monitor the vote count on candidates' behalf. Why have the permits been delayed?

Beltagy: I have applied for around 289 permits for my delegates in the People's Assembly. As of 9PM on the eve of the elections, we have only received 26. This has happened with many other candidates.  Without the delegates, it is very difficult to run in the elections. The High Elections Commission told me they need to wait on National Security to get the delegates approved.  Of course, since I am an opposition party member all of my delegates are also members, and that means they are suspects to National Security. I jokingly told the Commission employee who informed about the approvals that I now have suspicions about these 26, since National Security approved them.

Al-Masry: How does the absence of delegates at polling station affect your status as a candidate?

Beltagy: It means the electoral process will not reflect the voters' true choice. Moreover, this year judges will not monitor the elections. Judicial oversight is what preserved the relative integrity of the 2005 elections. We don't even need to talk about international monitors as they have always been ignored by the ruling National democratic Party (NDP) and government institutions. Only 6,000 social monitors are permitted this year, and they were told they can only observe but not inquire into potential violations. Additional restrictions have been placed on the media, with certain satellite outlets being closed down. Meanwhile, the NDP monopolizes all local television.  Photographs and visual documentation have also been banned, meaning if anyone witnesses clear infringements, they are not allowed to provide visual evidence for it. 

Al-Masry: Is your own withdrawal from candidacy a possibility if your delegates are not given permission to monitor?

Beltagy: This morning I personally requested the head of the electoral commission to grant these permits, and help us to secure our rights. The possibility of being granted the permits changes by the hour. I ask of every authority to perform its legal duties, and on my part I will do the same.  Our [MB] strategy so far is to go forth with the elections. 

Al-Masry: How many parliamentary seats do you expect the MB to win this year?

Beltagy: Let me remind you that in 2005 when the elections were monitored by the judiciary the MB won 20 percent of the seats. The NDP won 33 percent and they maintained a two-thirds majority by integrating defecting candidates back into the party. This year the government has placed severe restrictions on campaigning, including stringent time limits. It has detained 1,500 of our supporters in just two weeks, and has cancelled elections in many districts, while banning our candidates from running in many others. In this context it is impossible to make predictions, but the results will definitely not be like 2005.  The MB will win much fewer seats.

Al-Masry: What is the MB's reaction to the cancellation of elections in many districts, such as in Alexandria?

Beltagy: It is both hilarious and incredibly sad that such blatant legal infringements characterize the elections. This, along with many other violations, shows that the High Elections Commission does not have independent authority over the elections–they get detailed instructions from above.

Al-Masry: In light of the MB's experience with election campaigning and preparation so far, is there a possibility they will decide to withdraw from the elections at any point?

Beltagy: We [the Brotherhood] have taken a strategic decision to go through with the elections, with the possibility of appealing the results to the judiciary if the Commission does not run the process with integrity. I sent a the Commission a detailed account of unlawful plans certain groups have to intimidate opposition members through violence. We hope they will respond to this report soon.

Al-Masry: Will your position change if grave violations–premeditated forgery, physical intimidation, unlawful detention of opposition members, and trumped up charges–persist?

Beltagy: Up until this point our strategic choice [to run in the elections] remains. However, as events unfold we may have to rethink, and in that case, I wouldn't exclude [the possibility of withdrawing from the elections] at all.   

Al-Masry: Is the MB coordinating its efforts with any other opposition parties?

Beltagy: We have worked with the majority of opposition parties.  We have all agreed to seven main points of political reform that we wish to see.  They are the same points the reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei has spoken of.

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