The court on Tuesday also backed the election committee in banning civil rights organisations from monitoring the elections but rejected the disqualification of the presidential candidate Ahmed al-Uqsuri.

 

Ramzi al-Shaer, professor of constitutional law at Aein Shams University, told Aljazeera that the law allowed the election commission to select the monitoring judges.
 
''No doubt the judges should monitor the elections, but how to select those judges has been left by the law to the electoral commission.

"The commission receives nominations from all judicial bodies for monitoring the elections. The commission coordinates between these bodies. Thus I do not take the commission's decision as a disqualification to the judges," he said.

The government on Tuesday warned that it would not tolerate election day protests, and the opposition fretted about possible ruling party dirty tricks on the eve of Egypt's first contested presidential vote.

President Hosni Mubarak, who has led Egypt for 24 years and is almost certain to win Wednesday's balloting, has argued the election is a major step towards greater democracy in a country that has seen authoritarian rule for more than half a decade.

But many have been sceptical, and the opposition has said the vote will do nothing to diminish Mubarak's power.

Tough line

Hours before the voting started, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif took a tough line, warning that demonstrations during the election would be banned.

President Hosni Mubarak is expected
to win the elections

The pro-reform group Kifaya called for a demonstration on Wednesday in one of Cairo's main squares to protest against what it calls "corruption and oppression" and the continuation of Mubarak's rule.

"If there are demonstrations, they will be sabotaging the elections," Nazif said.

 

"It's the responsibility of the police and the security forces to secure the voters' rights to cast ballots.


"We have given instructions for self-restraint," he said. "But the priority will be to secure the elections process."

George Ishaq, one of the founders of Kifaya, vowed the group - whose name means "enough" - would go ahead with the protest and dismissed Nazif's warning.

"We have taken the right to demonstrate, and we are not waiting for anybody to give us permission," he said.

 

"All I can say is that the whole world will be watching."

Illegitimate

Brigadier Mahrous Shabayek, the Interior Ministry official in charge of elections, was reported in the Egyptian press as saying any demonstrations on election day will be considered "illegitimate and will be faced with firmness".


This year has seen several instances of heavy police violence against restive demonstrators.

 

During voting in the May referendum that passed constitutional amendments allowing the election, plainclothes agents and government supporters beat demonstrators.

 

Kifaya activists were also beaten during a protest in July.

Until now, the 77-year-old Mubarak has been re-elected in referendums in which he was the only candidates and voters' only option was whether to say yes or no to his continuation in power.

He has touted his decision to allow competitors to run in the race as a major reform and has promised further democratic steps if re-elected for a fifth six-year term.

Significant competitors

Mubarak faces nine competitors but only two are considered significant - Ayman Nour of the opposition al-Ghad Party and Noaman Gomaa of the Wafd Party.

 

"We have taken the right to demonstrate, and we are not waiting for anybody to give us permission"

George Ishaq,
Kifaya founding member 

Nazif underlined on Tuesday that the vote will be fair, but opposition parties complained that the government was already trying to sway the vote.

Past parliamentary votes have been marred by widespread reports of vote rigging.

 

In the 25 May referendum, the official turnout was 54%, but judges who supervised the polling stations denied that figure and said it did not exceed 3%.

Complains

But Wafd party officials complained that the commission and the Interior Ministry did not provide them until Monday with the voting lists they need to determine who they can send to each station to monitor.

 

A party's monitor must come from the station's district.

"We have been fooled by the Interior Ministry and the elections commission," Hossam al-Kholi, senior member of Wafd Party said.

 

"The only lists we received, two days ago, were full of mistakes."

Osama Atawya, election commission spokesman, denied any delays in providing the lists, saying "all candidates received the voters lists from the Interior Ministry".

Wafd campaign spokesman Mohammed Sherdi claimed other violations.

 

He said police in the Suez Canal city of Port Said - a centre of Wafd support - had collected the drivers licences of taxi drivers to force them to carry government supporters in groups to the polls.

"They are blackmailing people to serve such a corrupt government. I defy anybody who goes to Port Said and visit police stations and see how many cars are parking in front of it," Sherdi said.