Preparing for the worst, Egypt ramps up security for election day

As Egypt takes to the polls, security in the country has been ramped up

Sonia Farid
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“As presidential elections approach, it is more than likely that Egypt will continue to see attacks,” said David Barnett, analyst at the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, in anticipation of rising violence by extremist groups opposed to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood and the candidacy of former Defense Minister and Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Barnett’s predictions started materializing when three Egyptian soldiers were killed in a drive-by shooting on May 20, one day after the conclusion of overseas voting, in which Sisi scored a 94 percent victory. With the number of Egyptian police and army personnel killed by militiamen reaching at least 500 since the toppling of Mursi and with homeland elections, scheduled for May 26 and 27, going on, fears of intensified attacks are growing and so are the state’s precautionary measures to counter them.

Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim had announced on May 4 that the ministry has prepared a comprehensive plan in coordination with the army to secure the electoral process. ” I promise the people that we will pass this critical stage until the elections are safely completed,” he said in a press conference. “All that I ask of them is to report anything suspicious even if it proves unreal in the end.” While reassuring voters, Ibrahim noted the practical impossibility of installing surveillance cameras in every street. “We don’t have that kind of technology but we will do our best.” It was not until the last attack took place, however, that the ministry started giving more details. Deputy Interior Minister General al-Shafei Abu Amer announced on May 21 that “deterrent forces” from the army will start deploying around polling stations two days before the start of the elections. “Those forces are used for the first time for immediate intervention in emergency situations,” he said in a press interview. “They will be especially stationed in restive areas where groups that aim to destabilize security and undermine the democratic process are influential.” The army, Abu Ameradded, will provide explosives experts and advanced equipment that detects bombs from a distance and allow immediate action. “All forces will be in contact with operation rooms that will be run by police and army leaderships.”


Ready for all sorts of scenarios

On May 25, Abu Amer said the ministry is ready for all sorts of scenarios including the worst, by which he meant violence and bombings that aim at stopping the elections. “Other than that, our general plan includes securing not only all polling stations but all the streets surrounding them and different routes voters are expected to take on their way in and out,” he said in a press interview. “This is a big challenge that we have to face.” Interior Ministry official spokesman Hani Abdul Latif said that police checkpoints points will be present in streets and highways across the country and security will be tightened in areas surrounding strategic facilities like police stations and prisons. AbdelLatif echoed Abu Amer’s statement about the ministry’s readiness for different scenarios while giving more details on what these scenarios are expected to be like. “We are ready for riots like those practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood during their protests, terrorist operations like detonations and booby-trapped cars, and direct attacks on polling stations,” he said in a press interview. “I am warning all those who dare think of disrupting the elections and I am telling them that they will only have themselves to blame.” The Egyptian Air Forces will take part in monitoring the elections through taking aerial pictures of the polling stations and sending them to the main operations room as well as serving as ambulances in cases of violent clashes and emergency situations. Air Forces planes will also transfer more than 1,100 judges in charge of monitoring the elections to the polling stations to which they were assigned in remote areas across the country. On the regional level, a delegation from the Egyptian Interior Ministry received 15 armored vehicles from the United Arab Emirates to help in securing the electoral process and countering any possible attacks. “This step comes against the backdrop of escalating terrorist attacks that targeted Egyptian forces since the ouster of Mohammad Mursi and in anticipation of more attempts to disrupt the presidential elections,” wrote journalist Mahmoud Sabri on the news website

The minister of communications and information technology said that 2,000 digital readers will be used in the upcoming elections to identify eligible voters. “Those readers were used before in proxies for potential presidential candidates and changing voters’ addresses as well as in oversees voting,” he told Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency (MENA). The Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC), affiliated with the Egyptian Cabinet, will form a central operations room fully equipped to be in contact with another subsidiary 27 operations rooms throughout the country. “The operations room will also be connected to several ministries like defense, interior, health, and local development as well as other relevant bodies like the Ambulance Authority,” said IDSC chairman Sherif Badr. “Our role in monitoring the elections is part of the state’s effort to facilitate the process and deal with any upcoming obstacles.” According to MENA, official representatives of Egypt’s governorates met on May 24 to confirm that all preparations for the elections have been completed with special focus on services that ensure the smooth progress of the voting process like electricity and the installation of generators in areas where blackouts are frequent in addition to ensuring easy communication among polling stations. Minister of Local and Administrative Development AdelLabib confirmed the readiness of all governorates to carry out the elections. “All the polling stations are now ready,” he said in a statement. “Everyone is on duty and officials in each governorate will pass by the polling stations to ensure the process is going on smoothly.” Labib added that all details have been taken care of, including the availability of enough chairs for senior citizens. The Ministry of Health declared a state of alert as it readied itself for possible injuries in case of attacks and/or clashes. ” The Crisis Management Committee will be working nonstop throughout the two days,” said Health Minister Adel Adawi during the meeting he held with members of the committee to oversee the final preparations for elections.

“Ministry officials will be making tours in hospitals to make sure all the required equipment and medicine are available.” The ministry had announced earlier that all hospitals will be on alert to receive emergency cases and 2,500 ambulances will be made available throughout the country.

Anti-riot forces

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim surveyed the anti-riot forces that are to take place in securing the elections. “I have come to convey to you the gratitude of all the Egyptian people,” Mehleb addressed the officers. “Egypt appreciates all the sacrifices offered by police officers at this critical stage in order to keep it safe and fight terrorism,” Mehleb added. He further added that he is sure that the police and the army will together be able to secure the elections and Ibrahim seconded his opinion as he praised the role of the police in “protecting the people and the land.”

A large number of non-state bodies are also getting ready for securing the elections, though in a different manner. The Journalists’ Syndicate announced forming its own operations room to monitor the elections and to receive instant reports from field journalists as well as any complaints in case they are subjected to harassment or violence while doing their job. Several rights organizations declared a state of emergency as they prepared to detect any violations. More than 6,500 monitor from 38 organizations that obtained monitoring permissions are preparing to spread across polling stations after receiving training by the National Council for Human Rights. The council also formed an operations room to monitor the elections under the leadership of deputy chairman AbdelGhafar Shokr. “The operations room will receive complaints and violation reports from voters and representatives from both presidential campaigns” said the council chairman Mohammad Fayek. “Its members will also meet with delegations from different local and international organizations that will take part in monitoring the elections so that the council can make sure their job is done smoothly.” The Network for the Protection of Egyptian Children formed a team that will be in charge of detecting the use of children in any form of campaigning or violence or for any political purposes during the two days of the elections.” After the results are out, we will report all the problems we traced to the president elect and present to him our vision for the future of Egyptian children,” said a statement issued by the network.

Logistical obstacles

The Ibn Khaldoun Center for Developmental Studies focused on logistical obstacles that might be facing a sizable portion of voters. Dalia Ziyada, the center’s executive manager, called upon the Higher Elections Committee to solve the problem of Egyptians living outside their hometowns. “Egyptians living far from the governorates in which they are registered are required by the Higher Elections Committee to register at their governorates of residence if they want to vote there,” she said in a press interview. “The problem is that many of them did not register and are unable to go back to their hometowns.” Ziyada demanded that the committee allows those voters to register at the polling station or online. The center, Ziyada added, will contribute to the monitoring process with 3,500 monitors.

The European Observation Mission (EOM), affiliated to the European Union, announced it will take part in monitoring Egyptian presidential elections after an impasse caused by the confiscation of its telecommunication equipment and medical kits by Egyptian authorities was finally resolved. The confiscation had led the mission to earlier announce it was unable to monitor the elections and would only send a team to evaluate the electoral process, yet the situation changed after Egyptian customs released the equipment. “Our equipment has been released from customs,” announced European Parliament member and chief of observers Mario David “EOM is able to continue to observe the presidential election in Egypt as widely as possible throughout the country.” David, however, mad sure to stress that monitoring the elections does not in any way reflect the EU’s political views on the elections, but will only monitor the process. “The EOM neither legitimatizes the elections nor validates the results,” he said in a press conference.

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