Rachel Shabi: Violence at polling booths could derail elections

This military council seems not to want the daily bureaucracies of government, but is reluctant to relinquish the privileges of control

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Even before being spattered with protesters' blood and blurred by tear gas, Egypt's elections were convoluted.

Conducted in three rounds, so that independent judges can monitor all polling booths, the elections are based on two ballots: one for party lists and the other for individual candidates – with a counting system that, a day ago, had yet to be decided.

Now, with at least 42 protesters killed and over 2,000 injured in the past week, some people want an election boycott, as a part of continued protests against Egypt's military rulers – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).

According to Mona Makram Ebeid, politics professor and candidate with the Egyptian bloc, a liberal alliance, elections are "the way to get out of the impasse that we're in and the fastest way to get rid of the military leadership".

The swelling of recent protests was partly a reaction to the loathed Interior Ministry, whose Mubarak-era repression is still in force, 10 months after the revolution.

"People went to Tahrir because they were so appalled and shocked at the level of violence against protesters," says Rania Al Malky, chief editor at Daily News Egypt.

"It goes to the root cause of the uprisings – the terrible police abuse that is the main manifestation of the relationship between the Egyptian state and its citizens."

No police officers have been tried for the deaths of 846 protesters during the January revolution. Meanwhile, over 12,000 protesters have been tried in opaque military courts (more than Mubarak managed in 30 years) – some simply for speaking against Scaf (led by Field Marshal Tantawi). Egypt's State TV is still subject to zealous military censors.

Tahrir square has been a mechanism for holding Scaf to account. On several occasions this has brought concessions: recent protests resulted in Scaf moving forward the date it will relinquish transitional power, to June 2012. This military council seems not to want the daily bureaucracies of government, but is reluctant to relinquish the privileges of control.

If Egyptians give elections legitimacy by voting, the process could be derailed if polling turns violent. The army and police must ensure the elections are kept secure and safe.

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