The Obama administration on Monday raised serious questions about the fairness of Egypt's weekend parliamentary elections, saying it was disappointed by widespread reports of irregularities that cast doubt on the credibility of the polls in the strong U.S. ally.
The State Department said it had closely followed the campaign and Sunday's polling and was concerned by arrests and intimidation of opposition supporters, denial of media access to opposition candidates and Egypt's refusal to allow international monitors to observe the vote.
"These irregularities call into question the fairness and transparency of the process," spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement.
Earlier Monday, protesters set fire to cars, tires and two polling stations and clashed with police firing tear gas in riots over allegations that Egypt's ruling party committed widespread fraud to sweep the elections. Though official results are not due until Tuesday, opposition supporters around the country took to the streets in anger after hearing word their favorites lost amid allegations of massive vote-rigging.
Egypt is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and receives billions of dollars a year in U.S. assistance. It is also a major player in now-stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an important foreign policy initiative for President Barack Obama who delivered a major speech on U.S. relations with the Muslim world in Cairo last year.
Crowley said that despite its concerns, the United States wanted to work with the Egyptian government and civic groups "to help them achieve their political, social and economic aspirations."
Early indications are that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition, has been shut out of parliament, reduced to zero seats from the 88 seats won in 2005. 27 candidates face a runoff.
In a positive sign of things to come, the rest of Egypt's opposition has criticized the election's results and could drive their cause into the international spotlight, where America would be forced to speak.