US criticizes Mideast ally Egypt's election
The Obama administration on Monday raised serious questions about the "fairness and transparency" of Egypt’s weekend parliamentary elections, saying it was disappointed by widespread reports of "irregularities" that cast doubt on the credibility of the polls in the strong U.S. ally.
"We are disappointed by reports in the pre-election period of disruption of campaign activities of opposition candidates and arrests of their supporters, as well as denial of access to the media for some opposition voices," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
He added that Washington was "dismayed by reports of election-day interference and intimidation by security forces."
On Monday, protesters set fire to cars, tires and two polling stations and clashed with police firing tear gas in riots over allegations that Egypt’s ruling party committed widespread fraud to sweep the elections.
Official results in Sunday’s election are due on Tuesday. Opposition charges of ballot stuffing, bullying and other trickery marred the polls, but the Egyptian government said the balloting was fair.
The State Department said Egyptian confidence in the election outcome would occur when the government addresses "existing flaws" and ensures "full and transparent" access by independent monitors and candidate representatives.
The outlawed but partly tolerated Muslim Brotherhood said on Monday a "rigged" election had all but wiped out its presence in parliament, virtually eliminating opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party before next year’s presidential vote.
Egypt is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and receives billions of dollars a year in U.S. assistance. It is also a major player in now-stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an important foreign policy initiative for President Barack Obama who delivered a major speech on U.S. relations with the Muslim world in Cairo last year.
Crowley said that despite its concerns, the United States wanted to work with the Egyptian government and civic groups "to help them achieve their political, social and economic aspirations."
Egypt had already angrily rejected U.S. criticism of its refusal to allow foreign monitors to observe the polls, accusing Washington of interfering in its internal affairs.
Officials have indicated Mubarak, in power since 1981 and whose health has been under renewed scrutiny since gallbladder surgery in March, will seek a new term if able. If not, many Egyptians think his son, a top party official, will stand.
Investors have so far brushed off leadership worries, with the lure of Egypt’s sturdy growth outweighing uncertainty.