CAIRO -- Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters protested outside vote counting stations, scuffling with police and denouncing what they called widespread fraud in Egypt's parliament elections on Sunday.

The protests in Cairo and in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria capped a day of voting in which many independent monitors were barred from polling stations amid reports of ballot box stuffing and vote buying. In some places, government candidates were seen passing out cash and food to voters near polling stations.

Egypt's government seemed determined to ensure its monopoly over the legislature at a time of unusual political uncertainty ahead of next year's presidential election. For the first time in nearly 30 years, there are questions over the presidential vote. The 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has had health issues, undergoing surgery earlier this year. His party says he will run for another six-year term, but that hasn't resolved the uncertainty over the future of the country's leadership.

Fueling the sense of unease, Egyptians the past year have grown increasingly vocal in their anger over high prices, low wages, persistent unemployment and poor services despite economic growth that has fueled a boom for the upper classes.

Opponents say the ruling party in this top U.S. ally aims to sweep parliament almost completely to prevent any future platform for dissent. In the run-up to Sunday's voting, at least 1,200 supporters of the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood -- the ruling party's only real rival -- were arrested and many of its candidates saw their campaign rallies broken up repeatedly.

In the last parliamentary election, in 2005, the Brotherhood stunned the government by winning a fifth of the legislature, its strongest showing ever. But officials from the ruling National Democratic Party warned heading into Sunday that the Brotherhood would not gain nearly as many in the new, 508-seat parliament.

The 2005 vote was marred by widespread rigging, according to rights groups, and violence that killed 14 people, in most cases when mobs tried to get into polling stations closed by police to keep out opposition voters.

Sunday's voting saw sporadic violence -- police fired tear gas in one southern Cairo district after police shut down a polling station, and in the southern city of Qena, Brotherhood supporters threw firebombs at police after they were barred from a polling station.

But a heavy presence of security forces, along with gangs of intimidating young men hanging around outside polling stations, seemed to scare off most of opposition supporters. Only a trickle of voters, far less than in 2005, was seen throughout the day.

"People are scared to leave their homes. Anyone is afraid of the thugs," said Abeer Fathi, a 32-year old housewife in Cairo who nonetheless was able to vote for her Brotherhood candidate. "The authorities are reassured because they know people won't turn up after they scared them ahead of the vote."

After polls closed Sunday evening, around 800 Brotherhood supporters massed outside a police station where ballots were being counted in Alexandria, chanting, "No to fraud." They were confronted by several hundred riot police and truckloads of civilians touting long sticks. Brief scuffles broke out, though some Brotherhood supporters tried to pull their colleagues out of any fighting.

Several hundred others marched toward a counting center in the Cairo district of Shubra el-Kheima but were blocked by a heavy security force. Some protesters threw bottles at police, shouting, "No god but God, no to vote rigging."

Throughout the day, independent monitors from human rights groups were barred entry from many polling stations, leaving only low-level officials from the government-run election committee and police to supervise voting.

"The security is running the show," said Hosny Ragab, a monitor who told AP he was ordered out of a polling center at al-Raml in Alexandria despite having accreditation from the election commission.

At one point, busloads of women were brought into the al-Raml polling station, and their escorts were heard telling them to vote for NDP candidate Abdel-Salam Mahgoub. Several of the women told AP they were being paid around $7 each to vote for him. Speaking outside the station to the AP, Mahgoub denied any irregularities.

In the downtown Cairo neighborhood of Abdeen, a plainclothes policeman in a polling station acknowledged to an AP reporter that many ballot boxes were "fixed." The officer refused to give his name. Fawzi Mahgoub, a poll representative for the district's Muslim Brotherhood candidate, said his phone was confiscated after he took footage of an officer at the same center stuffing the boxes with a bunch of ballots.

In nearby back alleys, candidate representatives were seen negotiating with recruiters who promise to bring in a set number of votes -- around $9 a vote was the going price at the moment.

"No one votes without being paid," said one voter who would identify himself only as Mohammed. "My leg hurts, and if there was no money I wouldn't have come."

NDP candidates appeared to have a free hand to sway voters entering the stations, despite a ban on any campaign activities since Friday night.

In the Cairo district of Matariya, supporters of the local NDP candidate were seen handing out bags of food to voters inside the polling center. At another, in the impoverished Shubra el-Kheima district, election employees ate lunches provided by candidates, while voters lined up outside to get food from tents plastered with posters of the NDP contender, Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali.

Egypt has 41 million registered voters, but turnout has traditionally been very low -- around 25 percent in 2005. Secular opposition parties are weak, with little public support and limited resources.

Ahead of Sunday's vote, Egypt rejected U.S. calls to allow foreign monitors to observe the election, accusing its ally of trying to play the role of "overseer."

Egypt argued there were enough local monitors to do the job. But civil society groups say that out of hundreds of activists who applied, the election committee authorized only dozens to monitor. It appeared Sunday that even some of those with papers were being turned away.

Egypt argued there were enough local monitors to do the job. But civil society groups say that out of hundreds of activists who applied, the election committee authorized only dozens to monitor. It appeared Sunday that even some of those with papers were being turned away.

The government sensitivity over the vote appears to stem from the uncertainty over the presidential election.

Mubarak, who underwent gall bladder surgery in Germany last spring, has not said whether he intends to run for another, six-year term, though senior ruling party figures insist he will. Even if he runs, a new term would take him nearly to the age of 90, raising questions whether he would complete it.

The president is widely thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him. But the 46-year-old investment banker-turned-senior party leader faces some opposition within the party and there is widespread resistance to "inheritance" of power among the public.