Amr Nabil  /  AP
Egyptian supporters from the ruling National Democratic party, right, fight Wednesday with supporters from the Kifaya movement, during a rally in Cairo.
updated 5/25/2005 10:08:18 PM ET 2005-05-26T02:08:18

Plainclothes government agents beat protesters and watched as President Hosni Mubarak’s supporters punched other demonstrators Wednesday, marring a referendum on whether to let more than one candidate run in presidential elections.

Protesters were demonstrating against rules in the proposed referendum that would require independent candidates to get 250 recommendations from elected members of parliament and local councils — all dominated by Mubarak’s party — before being allowed to run.

The voters were casting a “yes” or “no” vote on the constitutional amendment passed by parliament this month with the requirement of 250 recommendations.

Female protesters in particular seemed to be targeted for beatings by both plainclothes state security agents and pro-Mubarak supporters, according to several witnesses and Associated Press

“This is the first time this sort of beating and humiliation has taken place here in Cairo,” said Abdel Halim Qandil of the opposition group Kifaya. He said it had been a problem before in provincial areas.

AP: Agents obeyed government officers
The government had no official reaction to the violence. Security officials said the clashes were between Mubarak supporters and Kifaya members, and that security officials were not involved. But AP reporters saw plainclothes agents taking instructions from both uniformed and non-uniformed government security officers.

The constitutional referendum, expected to pass easily, required a simple majority. It would pave the way for multiparty presidential elections in September, the first in Egypt’s history. Opponents say the rules are so draconian that no real challenge is possible.

Mubarak, 77, who has been in power since 1981 serving four terms, has not yet said he will run in the multicandidate election but is expected to.

The vote went on peacefully in much of the country. Polling stations around Cairo saw a steady flow of voters on the referendum amendment. Technically, the amendment would change the wording in the constitution to require “presidential elections” rather than the current yes-or-no referendums.

Turnout may send signal
The Interior Ministry said about 32.5 million people were expected to vote, and turnout was seen as a barometer of Mubarak’s legitimacy going forward.

Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party had used the state media, rallies, and both Muslim and Christian religious leaders to urge people to vote.

Opponents who boycotted the vote had planned to hold a series of demonstrations, but canceled at least one after government warnings that protests would not be tolerated.

Nevertheless, there were some anti-Mubarak demonstrations — many broken up by force.

Abdullah al-Sinawi, editor in chief of the Nasserite Party that boycotted the referendum, said the attacks on women seemed to be a “message of deterrence to Egyptian women against participation in political life.”

In one protest in Cairo witnessed by an AP reporter, more than a dozen members of Kifaya were beaten by Mubarak supporters. The protesters tried to seek police protection but a high-ranking officer ordered his security men to withdraw, allowing more attacks.

Indiscriminate attacks
Elsewhere, an AP reporter saw 150 Mubarak backers attack Kifaya members, belting them with sticks. Some demonstrators took refuge in a building.

One woman trying to leave the building was pounced upon by Mubarak loyalists who punched her and pummeled her with batons and tore her clothes, according to an AP reporter at the scene. As police looked on, she screamed, then vomited and fainted.

The woman later told the AP she was stripped of her blouse and her skirt was torn by Mubarak supporters as government security agents watched. She said she tried to file a police report but was denied the right to do so at a nearby police station.

At another clash in Cairo, an AP reporter saw a group of mostly female demonstrators beaten, groped, pressed into a security cordon and verbally harassed by plainclothes state security agents. The AP reporter was grabbed and pulled by the hair.

Outside the capital, 30 political activists in the port city of Ismailiya were arrested as they tried to stage a protest in front of a courthouse, protest organizers in Cairo said. Six members of the outlawed Muslim Brothers group were also arrested early Wednesday, police said.

The amendment would change the wording in the constitution to require “presidential elections” rather than the current yes-or-no referendums. Most controversially, it requires independent candidates to get 250 recommendations from elected members of parliament and local councils — all dominated by Mubarak’s party — before being allowed to run.

A senior ruling party member told Al-Jazeera television that turnout was higher than expected. “The call for the opposition to boycott achieved the opposite results,” Mohammed Ragab told Al-Jazeera.

Hope for ‘something new’
One first-time voter, Ihab Moushir, 36, said the referendum gave him hope. “There is a possibility that there will be something new. All people want something new, not only me,” he said.

But another, government worker Ahmed Hussain Mohammed, said he had voted simply because colleagues told him he would be fined if he didn’t. “I voted to avoid any government penalty,” said Mohammed, who lives in Sohag, 240 miles south of Cairo.

One who voted against the amendment, 29-year-old art instructor Noha Sayed al-Ahl, said it would not lead to a true multicandidate system.

“It doesn’t make any sense for me allowing it to revert to the old system again,” she said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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