MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The spread of democracy in the Middle East is a major foreign policy aim of the United States. Among the landmarks of progress often cited by Washington, this year's elections in Iraq and anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon. Among the Arab countries which Washington has faulted for foot dragging on reform: Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Today's developments in Egypt are a reminder that the road to democratic reform can be a very bumpy one. It was the third round of parliamentary elections. President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party has been leading, but the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has been running a strong second, so strong, they say, that the government is trying to block them from winning more seats.
Lindsay Wise writes for Time magazine from Cairo and joins us now by phone.
Lindsay Wise, what happened today?
Ms. LINDSAY WISE (Time): Well, I went to the polling stations in an area of Egypt in the delta region, which is a fertile valley agricultural area. And I went to a village there called al-Adwa, and there was a polling station there at a local school. And it was one of many polling stations today that were actually shut down completely by the state security police, who formed a cordon around the entire area and blocked voters from entering after--I think the polls were open, people told us, for about an hour and a half in the morning and then just completely shut down for the rest of the day.
SIEGEL: And these are polling stations where the opposition Islamists would presumably do well?
Ms. WISE: Yes, these are areas in which the Muslim Brotherhood has a stronghold because the Brotherhood has provided services such as helping to bring clean water, helping to bring health clinics and education to the poor people in these districts.
SIEGEL: In addition to that, blocking of a polling place and others that you've seen, there was violence today between the security forces and people trying to vote or ...(unintelligible).
Ms. WISE: There was. There was some places in--not at all the polling places, but a few of these places, the people who were locked out started to protest, and certainly at the place that I was at there was a lot of chanting going on and a little bit of pushing and shoving with the police. In other places, I've seen footage on Al-Jazeera and other channels of police charging protesters, the use of tear gas and also the protesters throwing rocks back at the police.
SIEGEL: And there was one death today in today's pro...
Ms. WISE: There was one death. A man was killed in a place called Khefer Shiyef(ph), where opposition protesters were confronting police, and there was a scuffle and a man was shot.
SIEGEL: Now no one anticipates that the Muslim Brotherhood could actually pull as many votes, get as many seats in the parliament as Mubarak's party, do they?
Ms. WISE: No, actually it's not physically possible because they've only fielded--they haven't fielded enough candidates to even challenge the majority of the national ruling party. This time around the Brotherhood were allowed to field candidates openly. They actually are a banned organization, and so in the past they have run as independents; this time they're still running as independents, but they were allowed to use their slogan of `Islam is a solution.' But there definitely was more leeway allowed for the Brotherhood this time around, and everyone expected they would do better, but I think they did surprise everyone with just how well they did.
SIEGEL: When people in that part of the world express skepticism about elections, they'll point to a group like the Egyptian Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and say, `They stand for one man, one vote, one time. Once they get into power, that's the end of it all.' Is the Brotherhood committed to actually continuing competitive elections if someday they ever gain control of the parliament in Egypt?
Ms. WISE: Well, the Brotherhood has been very up-front and very media-savvy in this election period, in fact, and at making this case that they believe in democracy, that they believe in a civil state and the rule of law and that they don't intend to impose a theocracy, and they've made this very clear. And I think they're trying to find a space for themselves here in what seems to be a burgeoning reform movement here in Egypt, and I think it's the kind of thing we'll just have to wait and see how they behave in this coming parliament.
SIEGEL: Lindsay Wise, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. WISE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Lindsay Wise speaking to us from Cairo, where she reports for Time magazine about today's parliamentary elections in Egypt.
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