Egypt: Election monitoring hindered by restrictions

Magdy Abdel Hamid, from EACPE.
(Photo: European Partnership
for Democracy)

The first round vote for Egypt's next president has been criticized last week by international and local election observers who say that restricted access for monitors and minor violations have undermined the overall transparency of the process, reported journalist Nadine Marroushi for the Egypt Independent news portal.

Many civil society organizations decided to work outside the official framework given the restrictions put in place by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). "We decided not to work under this umbrella, because we didn't agree with the restriction by this committee. The conditions were very tough surrounding civil society," said Magdy Abdel Hamid, head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE), focal point of Social Watch in the Arab country.

EACPE was one of 26 human rights organizations that formed a group called the Egyptian Delegation of Elections Monitors to informally observe polling stations. It also gathered 150 public figures including lawmakers, authors, artists and trade union members to assist. The coalition reached 25 governorates and successfully entered 30 to 40 polling stations in each, Abdel Hamid said.

Egyptians went to the polls on 23 and 24 May to choose a new leader among 13 presidential candidates to take over after the ruling military council formally steps down at the end of June. This first round will be followed by runoffs on 16 and 17 June.

Observers were granted permission by the PEC, the judicial body overseeing the elections, to monitor polling stations across Egypt's 27 governorates. But of the three international and 51 local organizations that were accredited, many received their permits only a few days before the vote. This meant that they were unable to oversee crucial processes leading up to the election, such as the compilation of voter lists and campaigning.

"The Carter Center was only able to conduct a limited mission focused on voting, counting and vote tabulation. As a result, the center is unable to reach a conclusion about the process as a whole," the center wrote in its preliminary report published on 27 May.

The Carter Center, which was set up by former US president Jimmy Carter, was one of three international NGOs accredited to monitor the elections. The other two were the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), founded in South Africa, and a lesser-known organization called the Shams Arab Network.

EISA also complained of "late accreditation" in its preliminary report, meaning it could not deploy long-term witnesses.

Local organizations say that, in addition to the delay in permits, the number of observers was restricted.

"We sent around 900 names of observers for accreditation, but only 700 were accepted four days before the elections," Ayman Soroor, a technical adviser to the One World Foundation for Development, told Egypt Independent. One World was among a limited number of local civil society organizations allowed to officially observe the process.

More information
Egypt: Presidential elections are not free, warns EACPE:

Egypt Independent: