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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Or else so many people wouldn't act like we're not doing any good! :?

Scatch Maroo

P.S. Before anyone fails to catch it, that statement was made tongue in cheek: I very much attribute the the rise in democracy around the world to the struggle of the Iraqi people, despite the fact that so many (media, Democrats, etc.) will never make the connection. ... BJL1M1.DTL

Shot at democracy stuns Egyptians
Mubarak's bid could mark revival of politics in one-party state
- Paul Schemm, Chronicle Foreign Service
Thursday, March 3, 2005

Cairo -- Surrounded by a phalanx of black-clad riot police, protesters unfurled bright orange banners on the steps of the Supreme Court in Cairo as scores of demonstrators demanded the release of jailed opposition politician Ayman Nour.

While the demonstration earlier this week by members of Nour's Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) party wasn't exactly on the scale of the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, or even the protest by tens of thousands of Lebanese that brought down that government Monday, it was a sign of the increasing political ferment in Egypt.

The daring protest came just three days after President Hosni Mubarak called for an amendment to the Constitution to allow multiparty presidential elections for the first time in Egypt's history -- a decision that may mark the revival of politics in a country where one party has held a lock on power for more than 50 years.

The decision, coming on the heels of elections in Iraq and among Palestinians, stunned the political establishment, especially since Mubarak had dismissed the idea as "futile" in January.

"This could be Mubarak's political legacy, which is ironic since he's the man who took over a fledgling democracy (in 1981) and turned it into a caricature of democracy," said Hisham Kassem, Al-Ghad's vice president of international affairs.

Parliament began debating the amendment Monday, and it should be ready for a nationwide referendum by May. Once it is approved, candidates will have about four months to campaign for the presidential election, expected in September.

Optimists suggest this will lead to a flowering of political activity.

"Now for the first time in all Egyptian history, we will have a competitive choice for the ruler of the country,'' said Abdel Moneim Said, director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank in Cairo.

Even Nour's wife, Gamila Ismail, the party's spokesman, hailed the decision as police jostled her on the courthouse steps during Monday's demonstration.

"I do believe that it is a good start on the path to constitutional change," she said.

However, other opposition politicians and analysts were more cautious, warning that the decision may be just window dressing, meant to appease critics in the United States and at home.

"To have real elections, you must change many laws, because in Egypt we are used to false elections," said Hussein Abdel Razeq, secretary-general of the leftist Tagammu party. He noted that state security forces have sometimes been employed to keep opponents of Mubarak's National Democratic Party away from the polls.

While Egypt appeared to be opening to democracy, Nour, the popular and charismatic leader of a party that had championed such reforms, remained in jail. He was imprisoned Jan. 29 on charges -- widely dismissed as trumped up -- of forging signatures to set up his party last year. His party had generated enthusiasm among younger voters and was widely expected to capture dozens of seats in parliamentary elections this fall.

Opposition activists -- whether Islamist, liberal or leftist -- agreed that amending a single article of the Constitution is only the first step. Many cited the example of Tunisia, where multicandidate presidential elections have been held for years, but the incumbent continues to receive more than 90 percent of the vote.

They called for restricting presidents to two six-year terms and curtailing the chief executive's numerous powers.

Mahdi Akef, leader of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, welcomed multiparty presidential elections, but also called for lifting emergency laws that severely limit public demonstrations, freeing political prisoners and amending the law governing the formation of political parties -- which probably would prevent the Brotherhood from fielding a presidential candidate.

Though the Brotherhood is officially outlawed, its members hold 15 seats in the 454-seat Parliament, making it the second-largest bloc after Mubarak's party, which controls about 80 percent of the seats. But in his speech calling for open presidential elections, Mubarak hinted that only recognized political parties would be allowed to participate, allowing the government to maintain its strict ban on legal Islamist parties.

Restricting candidates to officially recognized political parties also would exclude movements such as Kifaya (Enough), which has spearheaded an unprecedented series of anti-Mubarak demonstrations over the past few months.

Aida Seif Al-Dawla, a member of the movement -- the first to publicly utter the words "Down with Mubarak" -- was blunt in her assessment of the proposed constitutional amendment: "Mish kifaya" (not enough).

Even those who welcomed the move questioned Mubarak's motives.

Kassem said the president's initiative was just a response to international calls for reform, especially from the United States. "The bottom line is international pressure," he said.

On Feb. 16, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed "very strong concerns" about the jailing of Nour in a news conference with her Egyptian counterpart. A day before Mubarak's announcement, Rice announced she was scrapping a scheduled trip to Egypt -- a move widely believed to reflect the Bush administration's displeasure with Mubarak's foot-dragging on reforms.

Some analysts have suggested that the real motive behind the 76-year-old Mubarak's call for constitutional reform may be to open a path to the presidency for his charismatic son, Gamal, who has led a drive for reform within the ruling party.

This is known here as the "American model," in which the father yields power and the son is then elected, as opposed to the "Syrian model," exemplified by former President Hafez Assad, who designated his son Bashar as his successor.

If Mubarak decides instead to run for another term, finding candidates who can compete with his power and name recognition will be difficult -- almost as difficult as overcoming the pervasive cynicism many Egyptians feel after decades of political repression.

In Cairo's medieval neighborhood of Al Hussein, a young grocer contemplated the notion of open presidential elections. "Believe me, nothing will change," he said, declining to give his name. "The president will win the election as usual."

His friend, a carpenter in his mid-50s, came over for a cup of tea and added his point of view.

"I have no trust in any of those who rule us while there is corruption everywhere,'' he said. "How can corruption lead to free democratic elections?"

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©2005 San Francisco Chronicle
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