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Checking In On Egypt's Democratic Reforms.

How is the process of democratization going in Egypt?


It's, shall we say, going:

Egypt's parliament overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday allowing multicandidate presidential elections for the first time, but the opposition denounced the reform, saying it won't shake President Hosni Mubarak's grip on power.

But certainly not fast enough for many.

The New York Times reports:

"This is a political trick which makes a mockery of democracy," said Mostapha K. al-Sayyid, a political science professor at the American University of Cairo and a member of the fledgling opposition Kefaya movement, otherwise known as the Egyptian Movement for Change. "The amendment gives veto power to the ruling party to decide who will run in the elections."

The Economist magazine explains why the amendment fails to ensure a truly free and fair election in Egypt:

Banned political groups, such as the popular Muslim Brotherhood, cannot nominate candidates, while independents seeking to run must overcome near-impossible obstacles, including getting the backing of at least 65 members of the parliament’s lower house, where the largest opposition party has only 15 seats.

The Egyptian parliament's discussions on the matter became rather heated, as opposition groups decried the cumbersome hurdles for entry into the political process:



Progress is progress, but Mubarak should not feel he can get away with ending reforms where they stand today. Egypt is today a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, largely stoked by the official state-run media, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that democracy in Egypt could lead to a government with significant hostilities toward the United States. Indeed, one opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, "seeks a state based on Islamic law, though not an Iranian-style theocracy." Mubarak thus can probably convince many Western diplomats that his snail's pace of reform is protecting their interests as much as his own. He is just buffering the West from the barbarism of extremist Islam, he will assert.

For decades, America's foreign policy establishment bought hook, line, and sinker, the argument from corrupt or autocratic regimes that they deserve American support. Afterall, if the people were allowed to choose their own government, these tyrants told U.S. policy makers, they would choose Islamic fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, these same regimes fanned the flames of popular resentment and even hatred against the United States, which only further perpetuated their entrenched positions of power. It was a marvelous trick, and it still works to intimidate many in the West from actively pressing for democracy in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

When skeptics assert that democracy in Egypt is too dangerous, because Islamists might gain access to advanced weaponry for use against America, one only has to recall that Mohamed Atta, 9/11 hijacker and pilot, did just that already. In the long run, a free and democratic Middle East is the only change that can calm the vitriol gurgling there today.

Democracy, though is more than the newly elected majority dictating the rules of the game and calling it a day. Democracy is a process and a journey. It means respect for the rule of law and continued free and fair elections in the future. Thus, nobody should confuse America's support for democracy with support for groups that wish to gain elected office and impose religious autocracy.

A serious question remains:

Is the latest constitutional amendment in Egypt part of a good-faith (but gradual) path to democracy, or is it merely a way to get the American monkey off Mubarak's back? It might actually be a little of both.


Publius Pundit has a must-read on the subject.

Posted by Will Franklin · 11 May 2005 04:36 PM


You know it is hard to find a truly free and fair election anywhere! When you think about all the Democrats that are dead, illegal felons etc. right here in our own country who vote. It makes you kind of wonder...You know?

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 11, 2005 05:16 PM

The Arab people are very strong willed people. Dealing with the Arab world is a very courageous act. It is a political nightmare for most politicians to even think about trying to deal with the Arabs. Serious progress has been made within the Arab world for peace even though sometimes we don't think it is so...Religious beliefs will always play a big part in that regions peace issues.

Posted by: Liam at May 12, 2005 04:05 PM

Have things gotten any better now that Arafat is gone?...I didn't ever understand how he won the Peace Prize? It kind of took the esteem out of the Nobel Peace Prize when Arafat won it!

Posted by: Linda at May 14, 2005 07:37 AM