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 Egypt’s Army Rulers Face Unrest as Polls Open

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Join date : 2011-11-15

PostSubject: Egypt’s Army Rulers Face Unrest as Polls Open   Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:37 am

Egyptians started to vote today in the first election since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak as foreign investors abandon the country and a protest movement against the ruling generals becomes entrenched.

Voting for the lower house of parliament in the Arab world’s most-populous country will take place in stages, corresponding to three sets of governorates, with the last vote slated for January. Final results are due by Jan. 13. The Freedom and Justice Party, set up by Egypt’s once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to emerge as one of the largest blocs in the parliament.

The vote, which may make or break the transition to democracy in this U.S. ally, is overshadowed by clashes that have killed 43 people in the past week. Protesters accuse the ruling military council of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive an economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a decade.

“Egypt is at a critical juncture,” the head of the ruling council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, said in televised comments urging Egyptians to go to the polls. “It either succeeds, and gets through this social, economic and political situation, or the consequences will be very grave.”
Waiting to Vote

Outside a polling station in Cairo’s Heliopolis neighbourhood, long lines formed before the polls opened, with some voters leaning on canes or waiting in wheelchairs as soldiers in camouflage stood guard. Women in tight jeans and boots stood in line with those who were veiled.

“This is a very important day in Egypt’s history,” said Magdy Ibrahim, 50, an engineer, who arrived an hour early to cast his ballot. “Anyone who doesn’t vote doesn’t deserve to be Egyptian. The protests in Tahrir must continue and the elections must be held. The lack of security and economic deterioration that we’ve seen since the revolution mean all Egyptians must be vigilant.”

Egypt’s benchmark stock index is down 47 percent this year, the yield on the country’s 2020 dollar bonds has soared to the highest in 10 months and the cost of protecting the nation’s debt against default for five years has risen to the highest since March 2009.
Islamist Wins

Islamist groups have already won elections in Morocco and Tunisia, where the region’s wave of uprisings began a year ago. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January, Mubarak was toppled a month later and is currently on trial, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was killed last month and Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh last week signed an accord to relinquish power.

“The dictators were suppressing the Islamic current,” said Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan. “When the people in this region get some space and freedom, they choose Islamists.”

Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood survived crackdowns by secular governments owing in part to its organizational skills. That and its name-recognition may help give it an edge over the secular youth who were at the forefront of the leaderless anti- Mubarak revolt. The Brotherhood stayed away from most recent protests and focused on canvassing.

In Tahrir Square and other parts of central Cairo, scene of mass rallies and violent confrontations between security forces and protesters in the past week, many demonstrators vowed to continue their vigil.
Protesters Unmoved

“An election held under such circumstances can never be serious,” said Khalid Tallima, a 28-year-old parliamentary candidate who plans to remain in the plaza during the voting. “In the absence of an empowered government, I doubt this vote will have a real effect. Staying in the square is the answer.”

The unrest in Egypt has hurt the economy, as tourists have shunned the country and industrial production has been hit by strikes. Gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade. The country’s long-term foreign sovereign credit rating was cut one level to B+, four levels below investment grade, at Standard & Poor’s on Nov. 24.

The cost of protecting Egyptian debt against default for five years jumped 90 basis points last week to 563 on Nov. 25, according to CMA, which is owned by CME Group Inc. and compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately negotiated market. The yield on the government’s 5.75 percent dollar bonds due April 2020 climbed 82 basis points last week to 6.97 percent, the highest since Jan. 31.
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