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Egypt’s Fading Hope

Egypt‘s Fading Hope

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2005; Page A16

 

Washington Post Editorial

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/17/AR2005051701352.html

 

EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak’s abrupt decision to stage a multi-candidate presidential election this year created a tantalizing possibility for his government’s long-standing allies, led by the United States: that an authoritarian regime rotted by decades of corruption and stagnation would discover the political will to bring about its own transformation, rather than await an inevitable collapse. Such political transitions have occurred before, in countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Mexico; Mr. Mubarak’s election plan offered the prospect of a similarly controlled but genuine shift toward democracy. Yet as Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif meets President Bush at the White House today, that hope is fading. Without Mr. Bush’s intervention, it probably won’t survive.

 

Few Egyptians expected Mr. Mubarak to allow a fully free election this year, but even the government’s tamest opponents have been offended by the draft constitutional amendment the ruling party unveiled last week. It limits the presidential competition to the mostly tiny or moribund parties that have been officially recognized by the government; independents would have to obtain 250 signatures from current members of parliament and local councils, almost all of whom are members of Mr. Mubarak’s party. Egypt‘s largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, would be excluded; so would the dozens of parties that have tried and failed to obtain legal registration in recent years. Even stricter regulations would apply to future elections: Beginning in 2011, only parties with 5 percent or more of the representation in parliament would be eligible, a requirement that if applied now would eliminate all opposition candidates.

 

By these rules, the only aggressive challenger to Mr. Mubarak this year is likely to be Ayman Nour, the liberal democrat who was jailed on trumped-up charges earlier this year, then released under pressure from Washington. But Mr. Nour has been subjected to continual and sometimes brutal harassment since his release, and his rallies have been broken up by thugs. Government prosecutors are still preparing to put him on trial next month; a conviction would forcibly end the political career of a 40-year-old secular moderate while paving the way for Mr. Mubarak, 77, and his son Gamal, 41, whom he has been grooming for office. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, has been the target of the largest crackdown in years: At least 400, and as many as 2,500, of its supporters have been arrested in recent weeks.

 

Mr. Nazif and other Egyptian officials have been promising that the constitutional changes will be followed by a new election law allowing candidates from the 18 legal parties access to state media and providing for supervision of the ballot by Egyptian judges. But a heavy-handed state media campaign for Mr. Mubarak is already underway, and the judges themselves say they cannot ensure a fair vote under present conditions. Mr. Bush should insist that those conditions change: that Egypt‘s government cease harassing the opposition, tolerate peaceful political activity, guarantee equal access to the media, and give judges the independence and authority to prevent fraud, with the assistance of international observers. Without these reforms and others, Mr. Mubarak’s election will be a sham. The principal losers will be not his opposition, but those who hope to save Egypt from political upheaval.

 

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