In Egypt under emergency law, what could be considered free expression elsewhere can be cause for arrest.
|The ruling National Democratic Party is expected to win most seats in the upcoming polls [EPA]|
Egyptians are set to go to the polls to elect a new parliament amid fears of vote fraud, following a campaign marred by violence and a crackdown on the opposition.
The Middle East’s most populous nation will elect 508 members of parliament in Sunday’s polls.
Security forces are on high alert after violent clashes erupted throughout the Nile Delta and in the south of the country.
Officials have said that several rallies on Friday turned violent after supporters of rival candidates hurled stones at each other.
Activists for the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group that is banned but tolerated in Egypt, also clashed with police in the southern governorate of Bani Suef, and at least 15 protesters were arrested.
Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud, a lawyer for the group, said 22 of its members were arrested on Friday across the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to win far less than the seats it captured in the last elections in 2005, after at least 1,200 its supporters were arrested in the weeks ahead of the current vote.
Most of them have been released, but the group says its activists are being rounded up each day as they put up posters and hand out fliers.
The Muslim Brotherhood is fielding only 130 candidates seats after the election committee disqualified more than a dozen of them.
Al Jazeera’s Evan Hill, reporting from Cairo, said that while there have been reports of dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters being rounded up in and around Alexandria, the capital has been quiet.
“I accompanied Mohamed el-Beltagy, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the working class neighbourhood Shobra al-Khaima on Friday as he went to the police station to complain about Muslim Brotherhood members being denied the ability to monitor polling stations.
We attended the candidate’s protest but nothing happened and he was welcomed into the police station. This is indicative of how things have been around Cairo – no noticeably raised police presence, no crackdown, no fighting,” he said.
“But that is not saying much, because the police presence in Egypt is always high.”
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which has dominated parliament for more than three decades, is expected to gain seats at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from the port city of Alexandria, said that sceptcism was running high among Egyptians.
“Many do not think this election will be transparent, and fears of fraud and rigging remain high,” she said.
Meanwhile, administrative courts have ordered the cancellation of elections in 24 of 254 districts after rulings to reinstate disqualified candidates, many of them Muslim Brotherhood members and other independents, were ignored.
Safwat al-Sharif, the NDP secretary-general, said on Saturday that the vote would be held as scheduled in all the districts.
According to rights groups, the election has already been compromised by the arrests of opposition members and campaign restrictions on their candidates.
Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to safeguard the rights of voters in the election.
“The Egyptian authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and ensure that peaceful protesters are not arbitrarily arrested and detained,” Malcolm Smart, the London-based rights group’s Middle East director, said in a statement.
The government insists the election will be fair, and the electoral committee says it granted more than 6,000 permits to local civil society groups to monitor the vote and the ballot counting.