Egyptian opposition groups staged a demonstration on Saturday, charging that a low turnout gave President Mubarak no legitimacy to govern the country.

Some 400 demonstrators marched in downtown Cairo, chanting anti-Mubarak slogans and waving banners.

"Mubarak is ruling Egypt with the approval of 19% of the electorate," read one banner.

Mubarak won 88.5% of the vote in the 7 September presidential election but only 23% of Egypt's 32 million registered voters turned out.

The demonstration, which comes a day after the official results were announced, was led by groups such as the Marxist Tagammu and the Kefaya (Enough) movement which boycotted the country's first open vote.

Election runner-up al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party leader Ayman Nour also made an appearance as he sought to consolidate his image as leader of the opposition.

Fraud accusations

US-Egyptian sociologist and rights activist Saadeddin Ibrahim, whose organisation took part in monitoring the vote, condemned "fraud and falsification" during the polling process.

"It is therefore quite justified to scream in protest. I hope this will be the beginning of a new movement similar to those in Georgia and Lebanon that will hopefully bring down the system and resume democratisation," Ibrahim said.

"I hope this will be the beginning of a new movement similar to those in Georgia and Lebanon that will hopefully bring down the system and resume democratisation"

Saadeddin Ibrahim,
US-Egyptian sociologist

Forced voting, paid voters, unmanned polling stations, missing indelible ink and the use of public transport to ferry voters to polling stations were some of the accusations levelled against Mubarak supporters on election day.

But the electoral commission was satisfied with the polling process and many observers, while acknowledging some irregularities, took heart in the fact that Egypt's first brush with democracy passed without any major incidents.

"Mubarak's score is unprecedented in pluralist elections ... . It demonstrates the people have faith in him, acknowledge his achievements and believe in his vision for the future," said Safwat al-Sherif, secretary-general of Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

The score, only marginally lower than when Mubarak, 77, was re-elected in Egypt's previous policy of holding single-candidate presidential referendums, exceeded most expectations and left his two closest rivals seething with anger.

Results challenged

Nour clinched second place with 7.6% in Wednesday's elections but challenged the results, saying he had secured four times as many votes.

"We will not take these rigged results into consideration, we will take into consideration the will of the people," he said.

"This is a fraud aimed at eliminating the only candidate who will still be alive for the 2011 presidential election," said the 40-year-old lawyer, who was by far the youngest candidate.

Egypt's ruling party has been
accused of rigging the election

Wafd Party chairman Numan Gumaa, who came third with about 3%, also accused the government of having tampered with the results but was in a less combative mood.

"No candidate would have obtained such a score in a democratic country ... 7 September was like a traditional election day in Egypt, like every other election organised by the military regime," he said.

Low turnout

But Gumaa stressed the low turnout proved that "the Egyptian people do not trust the regime".

The 6.3 million people who cast their ballot in Mubarak's favour represent just 8.6% of Egypt's overall population.

Observers said the low turnout would harm Mubarak's legitimacy and represented a general disaffection with a government which has been in place for a quarter of a century.

The US, which put pressure on Mubarak to clear the way for contested elections, welcomed the vote but said it should only be the beginning.

Commenting before the official results were announced, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed Washington now expected Mubarak to come through on his promise to abolish the state of emergency he imposed 24 years ago.

Solana's greetings

Solana described the election as
democratic progress in Egypt

The EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana has congratulated the Egyptian president Husni Mubarak on the occasion of his re-election.

Solana has also praised what he said was "democratic" progress in Egypt.

 

Speaking to Aljazeera from Cairo, Dr Mohamed al-Sayed deputy chief of the Al-Ahram Political and Strategic Studies Centre, noted some of the pitfalls of the election.

 

Regarding the changes in Egypt after Mubarak's re-election, he said: "What has changed is that Mubarak had stood for the elections by introducing a specific work programme which he pledged to fulfil."

"The practice of aggrandising the president and a kind of personality cult, is now gone for ever. This is a step in the right direction for Egyptians," he said.

 

"The historic merits and flaws of the Egyptian electoral process that we have witnessed since 1952, has been largely reflected in the recent presidential election'', al-Sayed said.

Fear complex
 

Commenting on the strikingly low turnout of voters, al-Sayed said " What I mean is the trend of the voting process has been influenced by the prevailing Egyptian political regime."

"There was no protection against personal liberties while  all the channels of power-sharing were sealed off. Even a village mayor used to be appointed by the government."

The Egyptian middle class appear
furious, said analyst al-Sayed

"The fear complex that prevailed for so long has driven the Egyptian people out of the political process and out of civil participation."

"
The Egyptian people have been forced to limit their major concerns to their families and the struggle to earn a living."

Commission of inquiry

Al-Sayed continued: "
Though, there are alarming indications as represented by the very low voter turnout, what is far more alarming, is the remarkable absence of the Egyptian middle class from the election process. Despite the fact that this middle class has been at the forefront of political and cultural change in Egypt for more than a century.

"
This Egyptian middle class appeared furious, disgruntled and marginalised. They feel the government has nothing to do with their political concerns, which have further been ignored during Mubarak's term of office."

Al added: "
There have been lots of violations in the elections.  What we need is an independent commission of inquiry to explain what happened."