Egypt campaigning winds up

Most Egyptians believe the election will give President Hosni Mubarak a fifth six-year term in office.

Despite three weeks of unprecedented political debate many Egyptians see little prospect the September 7 poll will solve the key problems they face like poverty, unemployment and corruption.

In his closing campaign rally on Sunday night, Mubarak nevertheless urged Egyptians to go to the polls en masse.

“The Hosni Mubarak speaking to you tonight is seeking the support of each and every one of you,” he told a crowd of thousands of supporters gathered in Cairo. “The era of referendums and allegiance is over.”

“We want more freedom for our people and democracy for our country. We want more jobs and a stronger economy,” hammering home the economic pledge which was the centrepiece of his campaign.

Ghad party leader Ayman Nur has led by far the most aggressive campaign of the nine challengers, launching stinging attacks against the veteran incumbent, whose aura as father of the nation had made him untouchable for so long.

“We want freedom, we want to end 24 years of oppression, economic crisis and joblessness,” Mr Nur thundered relentlessly as he criss-crossed the country.

But in the crowd of several thousand in Cairo’s central Tahrir square, even Mr Nour’s supporters said Mr Mubarak, 77, a former air force commander, would win the elections.

“Everyone says Mubarak will win, so of course I am disappointed. If the country is to develop, we need change,” said Ahmed Mohammed, 31, an unemployed accountant.

In February, Mr Mubarak proposed holding contested presidential election to replace a system where parliament, controlled by his
National Democratic Party (NDP), nominated a single candidate for approval in a referendum.

Mr Mubarak’s announcement came amidst increased US calls for reform in the Middle East.

Egypt, a major recipient of US aid, says it did not act under pressure.

Tough election rules prevented the popular but banned Muslim Brotherhood fielding a candidate.

Most of Mubarak’s rivals are little known politicians of minor parties, with the exceptions of Nour and Noman Gomaa of the Wafd Party.

Egyptian rights groups have said the election is unlikely to be free and fair because independent monitors cannot enter polling stations.

The state press has backed Mr Mubarak in defiance of rules demanding impartiality.

Parliamentary elections in 2000 were marred by violence and reports of harassment.