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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Monitoring Egypt's historic vote

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst, in Cairo

As Egyptians prepare to vote in their first ever presidential election, the question of ensuring that the vote will be free and fair has jumped to the fore.

Civil society groups are taking the government to court in an attempt to be allowed to monitor the vote.

Egyptian presidential ballot paper
It is the first time voters are offered more than one candidate
Egyptian judges are also expected to decide later this week whether to carry out a threat to boycott their legal supervision of voting.

Under Egyptian law, judges supervise elections, but they are unhappy about the scope of their authority.

Back in May, they issued a stark warning to the government: Either they are guaranteed complete control over the process or they will refuse to co-operate.

Past experiences have shown that irregularities tend to occur outside the polling stations and the judges want to be able to exercise control over what happens both inside and outside.

They were also unhappy about what they say was an inaccurate voter register as well as other procedures limiting the authority of the judge in charge.

Further reform

Some of the judges' demands have already been met and judges are expected to decide on Friday whether the government has gone far enough.

A senior member of the judges' syndicate - known in Egypt as the Judges' Club - told the BBC he would recommend the meeting to vote against a boycott.

Inflatable election adverts backing Hosni Mubarak
Election fever takes many forms in the streets of Egypt
Judge Ahmad Mekki, who has compiled a report on the government's response, said participation in the election was better than a boycott.

But he added that the judges should continue to demand further reforms to ensure free and fair election in the future.

Meanwhile, a court ruling is also expected later this week over whether civil society groups can monitor the election.

The government body in charge of organising the vote has objected to their demand for a role.

Political energy

A spokesman for the coalition of groups which want to monitor the vote, Ayman Hanteesh, said monitoring the election was a constitutional right.

The Egyptian government has refused to allow foreign monitors, so civil society groups have decided to do the job themselves.

Egypt's first presidential election has unleashed the political energies of this society.

But the disputes over the conduct of the poll itself betrays a deep-seated suspicion towards the authorities and the way they handled past elections.

The forthcoming vote could either deepen that suspicion or put the relationship between society and the government in Egypt on a new path.

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Egypt vote boycott gathers pace
20 Jul 05 |  Middle East

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