Egypt's opposition al-Wafd daily reported Monday unregistered "mentally handicapped" voters cast their ballots in the country's second round of legislative elections.
The liberal paper, owned by al-Wafd Party, said an independent local rights group reported the "mentally retarded" were brought to vote in favor of the President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party candidates in Alexandria Sunday, but did not say whether the ballots were validated. It also said men hired by the NDP threw Molotov cocktails, water bottles and stones at voters in Port Saeed to prevent them from casting their ballots for the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Wafd candidates.
It said the police cordoned off the area, fired tear gas canisters and bullets in the air to end the clashes, reporting that a policeman and several voters were injured. The paper added 15 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were stabbed and injured in an attack by NDP supporters in the port city of Ismailia, saying they also threatened voters and election subcommittees with knives and dogs.
It claimed the ruling party supporters "disguised themselves as police officers and kicked out representatives of competing candidates from the polling stations, tearing up their accreditation documents and assaulting some of them, who were taken to hospital."
Egypt's semi-official al-Gomhuriya commented, however, the violence in the second round of legislative elections should not be a cause for concern on the "safety of the election process."
The mass-circulation daily said in its editorial the polls enjoyed a "high level of transparency and honesty in the government's neutrality and the security services' commitment in protecting the safety of voters, as well as allowing monitors from civil society to register any violations."
It insisted security forces only interfered when clashes threatened the lives of the electorate and said the thugs, whom the opposition accused the ruling party of hiring, "usually profit on such occasions." The paper said the violations should not raise concerns on the integrity of the elections, saying it calls for "more restrictions so that the voters can choose their candidates without interference or pressure from anyone."
The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi commented that the Arab League-sponsored Iraqi national reconciliation preparatory meeting in Cairo was a service for the Americans.
The independent Palestinian-owned daily said seeking wider participation in Iraq's political process was an attempt to recognize the legitimacy of the American occupation of Iraq. It argued the U.S. administration was seeking, through elections and referendums, to show its plan for change is starting to achieve results, adding the 22-member Arab League, and its chief Amr Mousa, were playing a major role in "achieving this great service by Arabizing the American political process."
It said it was ironic Arab governments would use their organization to legitimize the occupation and political process in Iraq on behalf and at the request of the American administration.
"They are providing a free lifesaver for this administration that is becoming hated, not only around the world, but inside the United States itself," the paper commented.
It said the Cairo conference was being for the regimes and parties linked to the occupation of Iraq that might "achieve some success among those seeking a piece of the cake." But these successes, it opined, will be very limited as long as the Iraqi resistance remains absent from the conference.
Jordan's al-Rai daily said in a commentary even if the Iraqi meeting in Cairo did not succeed, its convening still had benefits because there was now recognition of an internal Iraqi problem.
The mass-circulation paper, partially owned by the government, argued the meeting also shows Iraqis are unable to resolve their problems without an Arab say and help "because Iraq is an Arab country."
While these are indirect positive results for this gathering, it does not mean it will achieve national unity or avoid a civil war, it said, adding reconciliation can only happen among all Iraq's struggling parties without exception and without conditions on who attends, such as the Baathists and resistance elements.
"Otherwise, it will be a reconciliation of partners in power in Iraq," the paper opined.
It said that while those ruling Iraq under foreign occupation don't have interests in reconciliation under the current conditions, they will need reconciliation when the foreign forces withdraw because "the rulers themselves admit they will face a catastrophe when they withdraw and will then need recognition as a party in reconciliation."
The London-based al-Hayat said the Iraqi meeting in Cairo was necessary and belated, adding it should have been held before endorsing the new constitution so that the charter would have been the fruit of accord.
Nevertheless, the Saudi-financed paper added, the meeting should be established as a constant forum for dialogue "since reconciliation seems to be put on hold." It said an open dialogue would at least assure the Iraqis of "purely Iraqi choices because the American option has given all it has and brought the country to where it is today."
The paper added the Arab mediation role showed its limits by being unable to interfere, but provided a positive regional atmosphere for Iraq's relations with its neighbors. It said that national accord was the strongest factor that will push the occupation forces to leave the country and that continued strife will keep them there.
"Therefore, it is the natural demand by any national rule to seek an end to occupation," it said, "and if any of the rulers in Baghdad fear an 'early' withdrawal, the best way to confront its repercussions is accord...for chasing personal narrow interests is a crime against Iraq and Iraqis."