Cablegate: Egypt's September 7 Presidential Election: First

Published: Wed 7 Sep 2005 05:57 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
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1. (SBU) Egypt held the first competitive presidential
election in its history on September 7. Key themes from
today's voting, as observed by contacts and emboffs in the
field, have been an apparently low turnout, a predominantly
calm atmosphere, with scattered exceptions, and often
disorganized and inconsistent procedures inside polling
stations. Observers were startled by the Presidential
Election Commission's late-breaking reversal, two hours into
the voting, of its long standing prohibition on access to
polling stations by domestic election monitors. Predictably,
at polling sites across the country, the presence and
organization of the ruling NDP dwarfed all of the
competition. There have been several reports of problems
between police and domestic monitors, but those we have
looked into have turned out to be minor incidents. Polls
officially remain open until 10PM tonight. Counting will
begin sometime thereafter. Official results are not expected
until late Thursday at the earliest. Egypt appears to have
cleared an important hurdle in staging elections that
featured no major instances of violence or unrest. However,
the results, in which Mubarak will inevitably prevail, will
be controversial. Official turnout figures, should they be
far at odds with independent assesments, could be
particularly contentious. End summary.
2. (SBU) We continue to have an overall, anecdotal impression
of a low turnout, although a few polling stations we have
seen during the day had long lines. An Embassy team visiting
Nasr City, a crowded suburb east of Cairo, reported in the
late afternoon that polling stations there had been virtually
deserted. Polls, which opened at 8 this morning, officially
remain open until 10PM. Some have speculated that turnout
could pickup as the weather cools after dusk, although it
would not be surprising if many polling stations close
earlier, especially if the stream of voters appears to be
petering out.
Election Commission's Late-Breaking Reversal
3. (SBU) In a very surprising move, the Presidential Election
Commission (PEC), announced on State TV at approximately 1030
local, more than two hours after polls had opened, that
domestic election monitors could be admitted to polling
stations. The announcement reversed the PEC's previously
steadfast position against the admission of monitors to the
polling sites, an issue which had been the subject of much
domestic and international criticism and several legal cases.
Leaders of domestic monitoring groups we spoke with were
scathing of the PEC in reaction, describing the move as a
cynical gesture for international consumption that came too
late to have practical benefit at home. (Comment: While it
is not yet clear how many domestic monitors were able, in
light of the late decision, to enter polling places, the move
set an important precedent. It will now be difficult if not
impossible for the GOE to refuse domestic monitors access to
polling places in November's legislative elections and in
future polls. End comment.)
4. (SBU) Embassy teams visited dozens of polling stations
around Cairo and in eight provinces across Egypt. In many
cases, police and local elites welcomed Emboffs to polling
stations and gave them coffee and a tour of the facility.
However, an Emboff in eastern Sinai was taken to a police
station and questioned at length by a local State Security
representative. Inexplicably, however, the same police who
had marched him to the station subsequently took him on a
tour of local polling stations, and they parted on friendly
5. (SBU) Despite the mid-morning decree by the Presidential
Elections Commission reversing their earlier prohibition on
admitting domestic monitors to polling stations, it is still
unclear, as noted above, how many of these monitors
ultimately gained access to the polling places. There have
been scattered reports of problems between police and
monitors (see paras 11 and 12), but we do not currently have
any confirmed or detailed information on serious incidents.
6. (SBU) In keeping with Egyptian electoral traditions, many
of today's voters arrived at the polls in buses and minivans
provided by their employers and/or local political elites,
often decorated with pro-Mubarak banners and slogans. The
majority of polling stations we saw today were also plastered
with Mubarak paraphernalia, and many poll workers were
themselves sporting Mubarak T-shirts, buttons, and hats
supplied by the ruling NDP.
7. (SBU) Contacts in the opposition Wafd and Ghad parties,
whose candidates No'man Gom'a and Ayman Nour were Mubarak's
most serious, if distant, competitors, told us they felt
hampered by their inability (due to lack of personnel) to
post representatives in all of the polling stations. A Wafd
party representative also told us their complaints about
Mubarak posters in the polling places were rebuffed by
electoral officials, who said that, as head of state, his
portrait must be displayed in public facilities such as
8. (SBU) In many (but not all) polling stations, voters'
thumbs were dipped in phosphoric ink as a safeguard against
multiple voting (an apparently widespread problem in the May
25 constitutional referendum). However, Gameela Ismail, wife
of candidate Ayman Nour, asserted in a widely broadcast
mobile phone text message that the ink was easily removed
with deodorant. (Note: We have not had the opportunity to
test this assertion. End note.)
9. (SBU) Across Egypt, chaotic and disorganized voter lists
appeared to be the rule rather than the exception. Numerous
anecdotes from the field suggest that many who turned out to
vote left frustrated after being unable to locate their name
or designated polling station. Officials at a Cairo police
station, where many went to search for their names on the
voters' lists, opined that the rolls were particularly
disorganized due to the hasty consolidation of polling
stations to allow for judicial coverage. On the other
extreme were reports, particularly in Alexandria, that
polling stations were admitting anyone with a national i.d.
card, in violation of published procedures, and with
implications for fraud.
10. (SBU) In several instances, both in Cairo and in the
provinces, Emboffs noted groups of voters gathered near
polling stations, carrying LE 20 notes (about USD 3.50), -
perhaps financial enticements to come down and vote. In
other areas, such as the Shubra district of Northern Cairo,
local elites put out tables of complimentary fast food and
soft drinks near polling stations to induce local citizens to
come to the polls.
Violence/Voter Intimidation
11. (SBU) The protest group Kifaya staged a demonstration of
800-1000 persons in Cairo's Tahrir Square midday. A Kifaya
statement released subsequently confirmed our observations
that police had allowed the event to proceed without
incident. However, a smaller group of Kifaya members
reportedly clashed with unidentified thugs, possibly ruling
NDP supporters or, according to an unconfirmed report,
plainclothes police. Several Kifaya members were lightly
12. (SBU) A report that four domestic monitors were beaten
and detained in Assiyut, Upper Egypt, appears to have been
exaggerated - a representative of the domestic monitoring
coalition confirmed to us that one of its volunteers in
Assiyut was slapped by police, and several briefly detained,
but noted that following an intervention with State Security,
the situation was resolved and all four had been allowed to
resume their monitoring activities. There are several other
reports of incidents involving domestic monitors in Upper
Egypt and the Delta, but details remain sketchy. Another
contact advised us of report that a judge in Minya
supervising a polling station had been injured in an
altercation with an unidentified party candidate
representative. Our Embassy observer in the city later
determined that there had indeed been a shoving match between
a judge and an NDP representative, when the latter tried to
interfere in the process. The judge emerged unscathed in a
prevailed in the dispute.
Next Steps
13. (SBU) Polls officially close at 10PM local. Some have
speculated that turnout could pickup after dusk, when the
weather cools, although many polling stations will probably
close early, should turnout remain low. Only after 10PM will
counting begin. We are unlikely to have any official results
or statistics until late Thursday at the earliest.
14. (SBU) As of early evening, Egypt appears to have cleared
a key hurdle in avoiding any major instances of violence or
unrest associated with the elections. The results, in which
Mubarak will certainly prevail, will be controversial - and
opposition candidates will inevitably cry fraud. Official
turnout statistics will also be closely and skeptically
scrutinized. It seems likely that the findings of domestic
monitors will track with our impression of a low voter
turnout. The GOE will seek to present as high a
participation figure as they can in order to confer
legitimacy on Mubarak's reelection, but should the official
figure be far at odds with the estimates of domestic
monitors, and even the increasingly assertive and bold
Egyptian judges who supervised the polls, it will risk
achieving the opposite result. End comment.
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