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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

EGYPT: Local NGOs receive funding to monitor elections

CAIRO, 7 August 2005 (IRIN) - A coalition of Egyptian NGOs has received funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to monitor the country’s presidential election in September and legislative elections to follow in November.

"The main aim of the monitoring process is to ensure that there is transparency and integrity in the coming elections," said Muhammad Zarea, coordinator of the national campaign to monitor elections.

It is the first time that a competitive presidential election is being held in Egypt. Previously, parliament would nominate one candidate who would be proposed for the public’s approval in a national referendum.

Under this system, President Hosni Mubarak has remained in power for 24 years. He has said he will seek a fifth six-year term in the forthcoming elections.

The groups forming the national campaign to monitor elections include the Group for Democratic Development, the Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners, the Arab Organisation for Criminal Reform, and Andalus Centre for Tolerance Studies.

They have received a total of US $250,000 from USAID towards monitoring the polls.

"It is also to ensure that state resources are not used to support one candidate, and to ensure that the president does not take advantage of his position for his electoral campaign," Zarea said.

"We decided to seek foreign funding after we failed to raise local funds."

Members of the national campaign had contacted several businessmen, private companies and banks within Egypt, but they had not responded to their requests for funding, he added.

The proposed monitoring exercise includes evaluation of the performance of media as well as on-the-ground observing inside and outside polling stations.

Organisers plan to hire some 250 monitors for the duration of the campaign.

In addition, 150 lawyers and journalists have signed contracts with the NGO coalition to monitor the election. Both groups are currently training for the task ahead.

"Elections will be monitored on two levels," Ahmed Samih of the Andalus Centre said. "Firstly, there will be field monitoring where lawyers will go to election committees and monitor the performance there.”

The second level of monitoring would involve the Andalus Centre conducting a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the media, Samih added.

“Comprehensive media monitoring will take place during the campaigning period and the elections themselves.”

The campaign plans to issue weekly reports throughout the election period, outlining whether it feels particular media operations are being biased towards one candidate or another.

There has been a strong debate in Egypt on the issue of monitoring elections ever since President Mubarak announced early this year his intention to amend the constitution to allow multi-candidate presidential elections.

The national campaign has sent official requests seeking approval for its election monitoring proposals, but has yet to receive a reply.

"In the case that the state approves us monitoring elections, we will have monitors posted at the ballot boxes," Samih said.

But the campaign intends to oversee the elections even if the authorities refuse their request to do so, according to Samih.

"In that case, we will have monitors standing outside polling stations," he said.

Though it has not been officially stated, it is not expected that the Egyptian government will allow international observers of the election process.

In a press statement made last week, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said there was general opposition to international observers, but that the Egyptian government did support the idea of local monitoring.

The Supreme Committee for Elections is due to announce the official field of election candidates on Thursday.

Eleven candidates are expected to be in the running for president (after tough conditions ruled out many potential independent candidates), and campaigning is expected to start next week, according to government statements.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Governance

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