Egyptians vote in run-off polls amid unrest; U.S. condemns Cairo’s ‘Hitler remark’

A woman casts her vote during the second round of parliamentary run-off elections at Imbaba in Giza. (Reuters)

Egyptians vote again on Wednesday in the run-off of a staggered parliamentary election marred by deadly clashes between protesters and security forces that have left 14 people dead in five days as a U.S. official voiced outrage after an adviser to Egypt’s military said some protesters should be “thrown into Hitler’s incinerators.”

The run-off vote, which takes place over two days, is for individual candidates. 118 candidates are competing for 59 seats in the parliament.

The ruling military council has repeatedly pointed to the elections, the first legislative polls since Hosni Mubarak was ousted, as proof of its intention to hand over power to civilian rule.

But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power after the popular uprising toppled Mubarak in February, has faced growing outrage at its heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators.

Deadly clashes that erupted on Friday pitting troops and police against protesters demanding an end to military rule have piled pressure on the SCAF, with liberals and Islamists uniting to condemn its handling of the transition.

The run-off in the second round of the polls will see candidates from the two largest Islamist parties go head to head for seats in a third of the country’s provinces, according to AFP.

The ruling military has decided on a complex election system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, which will comprise two thirds of parliament, and also for individual candidates for the remaining third of the lower house.

Islamists leading

Islamists have already emerged as the front-runners in this election, the first step towards democratic rule since the popular uprising that ousted Mubarak in February.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said it won 39 percent of votes in the party lists, with 49 individual candidates vying for seats in Wednesday’s run-off.

The al-Nour party, which represents the more hardline brand of Salafi Islam, has claimed more than 30 percent of the votes in the lists.

In the first round of the elections which began on Nov. 28, Islamist parties trounced their liberal rivals, securing around 65 percent of all votes cast for parties.

The Muslim Brotherhood had been widely forecast to triumph as the country’s most organized political group, well known after decades of charitable work and opposition to Mubarak’s 30-year regime.

But the strong showing by Salafist groups, which advocate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, was a surprise, raising fears of a more conservative and overtly religious 498-member new parliament.

10,000 women march in Cairo

Meanwhile, Egypt’s military on Tuesday “strongly regretted” what it called “transgressions” against protesters, in a statement addressed to women after soldiers beat and stripped a female demonstrator.

“The military would take legal action against those responsible for the abuse,” said the statement, which came after a women’s march in Cairo denouncing attacks on female protesters.

Around 10,000 women marched earlier Tuesday from Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the nearby Press Syndicate chanting, “Egyptian women are a red line” and “Down with military rule,” an Egyptian daily reported. Protesters were prompted by the image of three soldiers stripping a female protester naked in the street and violently assaulting her two days earlier.

According to Egypt’s al-Ahram daily, women of all ages and backgrounds gathered near Tahrir Square after calls went out on Facebook for a women’s protest march to express condemnation of images -- currently circulating on online media venues and in newspapers -- of young women being harassed, beaten and stripped naked by military personnel.

Marchers included veiled women (wearing the Islamic headscarf) and unveiled women as well Coptic-Christian women and others wearing the niqab. Other marchers carried Egyptian flags bearing the cross-and-crescent symbol.

Anti-Semitic remarks

Also on Tuesday, a U.S. official voiced outrage after an adviser to Egypt’s military said that some protesters facing down troops in Cairo should be “thrown into Hitler’s incinerators.”

Retired general Abdul Muneim Kato’s “anti-Semitic comments are outrageous, offensive and clearly unacceptable,” Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. special envoy against anti-Semitism, wrote on Twitter.

Kato, who advises the military, faced criticism from human rights groups and dissidents after saying that some protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were “street kids who deserve to be thrown into Hitler’s incinerators.”

Presidential hopeful and former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohammed ElBaradei said such statements showed “a deranged and criminal state of mind.”

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said Kato’s comments “incite hatred and justify violence against citizens.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday accused Egypt’s rulers of a “systematic degradation” of women that “disgraced the state.”

Clinton's statement prompted the the Egyptian foreign minister to saying that Egypt would not accept any interference in its internal affairs.

Footage earlier this week showed Egyptian soldiers beating protesters with batons, often after they had fallen to the ground, in what activists described as a forcible attempt to clear a sit-in demanding a swifter transfer to civilian rule. The clashes since Friday have left at least 13 dead and hundreds wounded.

“Egypt does not accept any interference in its internal affairs and conducts communications and clarifications concerning statements made by foreign officials,” the state news agency quoted Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr as saying.

“Matters like that are not taken lightly,” he was quoted as saying, in his response to a question about Clinton's remarks.

A video of Egyptian soldiers dragging a woman protester on the ground by her black full-body veil, exposing her bra, then clubbing and kicking her has sparked outrage. Thousands marched on Tahrir square on Tuesday to condemn the attacks.

Activists have called for a major protest on Friday to demand an apology for the attacks on women.

The United States, which saw Mubarak as a staunch ally, gives Cairo $1.3 billion a year in military aid, a commitment that began after Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.

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