Military, Islamists, others face off as protests persist in Egypt elections
CAIRO — Egyptians prepared to vote Monday in the first round of parliamentary elections despite continuing protests against military rule.
The first parliamentary ballot since the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak in February is complex, with more than 42 political parties and slates of independent candidates. So is the process itself, with three rounds of voting in various parts of the country over the next six weeks.
One political faction urged voters to dress in black to honor those killed in the country's upheaval.
At a shop selling satellite TV equipment, Mohammad Ali Moustafa said he supports the military and decried recent violent protests near his business. Moustafa, 48, said he would vote for an alliance of three liberal parties known as the Egyptian Bloc.
"The Islamists are out to gain political power and ... creating sedition in society," he said. "We don't want those Islamists in power."
At a nearby cafe, young and old Cairo residents took refuge from a rare rainfall and drank Stella beers. Farouk Akif, 24, a guitarist and composer who supports the protests in the capital's Tahrir Square, called the elections "very meaningless. ... Having to elect someone seems very unimportant now."
His friend Islam Mohammed disagreed: "I will vote because I'm afraid that parties that don't have the right to power will make gains, like the Muslim Brotherhood, who are only focused on taking power."
Mohammed, a graphic artist, said he would vote for Egyptian Bloc and Free Egyptian candidates. "But I still don't approve of the way the elections are being held and the decisions of the military council," he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's best-organized political faction and the largest Islamist party, said its members would protect voters and offered to take journalists to polling stations in Shubra, a working-class neighborhood of Muslims and Coptic Christians.
Its candidates are running under the Freedom and Justice Party banner.
An official election-guide website was inoperative on Sunday. Many Egyptians turned to social-media websites for advice on where and how to vote.
Backers of candidate Mahmoud Salem, who writes a political blog under the name "Sandmonkey," used Twitter to drum up votes.
"We are very much on the economy," Salem, 30, said of his campaign. He has proposed a detailed plan to combat Egypt's endemic corruption and to improve education and health care.
A candidate in the capital's more upscale district of Heliopolis, Salem spent the past week delivering medical supplies to Tahrir Square protesters.
Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling junta, urged Egyptians to vote and warned of "extremely grave consequences" if unrest continues.
He blamed "foreign hands" for the violent confrontations between tens of thousands of protesters and security forces during the past nine days.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo warned Americans in Egypt that "foreigners attempting to photograph demonstrations or election-related posters and gatherings may be subject to harassment from crowds or arrest."
In Tahrir Square, protesters huddled under blankets and tents in the rain. Around them, young men registered supporters for a proposed national salvation government to be headed by Nobel laureate and former United Nations atomic energy chief Mohammed ElBaradei, former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abu Fatouh, and constitutional law expert Hussam Eissa.
Akif, the politically disillusioned musician, said he backs such an arrangement.
"If we could have this national salvation government, this would be a start, and then we can have (real) elections," he said.