Democratic Mirage Omar Abdelsamad. Harvard International Review. Cambridge:Spring 2006

MIDDLE EAST: Democratic Mirage Omar Abdelsamad. Harvard International Review. Cambridge:Spring 2006. Vol. 28, Iss. 1, p. 12-13 (2 pp.)

In the Egyptian presidential elections of September 2005, President Hosni Mubarak’s fourth re-election came as little surprise to the Egyptian people or the international community as a whole. Although lauded by some, progress of Egyptian democracy has been undermined by the detainment of political opposition, a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood party, allegations of voter intimidation, and inaccurate electoral rolls.Opposition leader Ayman Nour, Mubarak’s only serious competition, was detained in January 2005 by the Egyptian government under allegations that he had forged the signatures necessary to validate his recently formed Egyptian Party of Tomorrow’s (al-Ghad) legal status. His co-defendant, Ayman Ismail, confessed to committing acts of forgery on Nour’s behalf but later recanted, claiming police blackmail was used in order to elicit his testimony. While Mubarak’s party, the National Democratic Party, insisted that the matter was based on judicial grounds, the Bush administration criticized Nour’s recent detention. While such international pressure led to Nour’s release and postponed his trial, he ran in the presidential elections with a heavily damaged reputation.Most Egyptians have remained skeptical of their nation’s move toward democracy. Due partially to the country’s pattern of corrupt presidential referendums, voter apathy pervaded the election with only 23 percent of voters turning out. In addition, candidate exposure was heavily onesided-opposition-party postering was overwhelmed by National Democratic Party advertisements, many of which were paid for by independent businesses or the party masquerading as such.Mubarak secured his fifth term by pledging to reform both Egypt and its constitution. Shortly after the election, opposition parties and their leaders decried the referendum as having been unfairly influenced. For example, Mubarak’s critics claimed that opposition voters were turned away from polling sites. The Egyptian government reported 88.6 percent of the vote for the incumbent Mubarak, just 7.6 percent for Nour, and only 2.9 percent for the Nafd party leader. Members of the two smaller parties, the Nafd and the al-Ghad, took to the streets to protest the alleged rigging of the election by Mubarak and to call for another presidential election. Egypt’s electoral commission dismissed claims of fraudulent results and refused calls for another election.While the al-Ghad party was permitted to participate in the election, red tape and complications still obstruct other political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, whose parliamentary candidates had to run as independents. The party, banned by the government in 1954 under a law against religious political groups, claimed that the government’s arrests of party officials intimidated voters. Egyptian security forces dismissed the allegation that the arrests were part of an underhanded strategy to detain party members as wanted criminals.President Mubarak consistently denies allegations of election mismanagement and firmly asserts his party’s commitment to democracy. He has gone so far as to claim that foreign pressures played no part in his decision to move toward a more Western-style democracy. In an effort to reinvent himself as a man of the people, Mubarak had as his main campaign pledge the creation of four million jobs in his next term. In addition to his populist campaign policy, he appeared in commercials dressed in open-collared blue shirts, speaking with rural farmers of his love for the countryside. While critics denounced his indifference to poverty and unemployment, along with corruption that they claim has characterized the leader’s rule, various parliamentary officials lauded Mubarak’s commitment to restructuring the political system with increased checks and balances as well as his desire to delegate more responsibility to parliament. Mubarak’s defenders praised the president’s pledges to end the country’s state of emergency and liberalize the media and citizens’ access to it. If realized, these promises would show genuine progress toward the type of national democratic reform that the United States and other countries have been encouraging in the Middle East.Enlarge 200%Enlarge 400%[Photograph]An Egyptian man and woman look at a poster publicizing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s bid for re-election. The September 2005 elections were marred by low voter turnout and controversy, with many complaining of mismanagement.However, this progress is a long way off, as Mubarak’s actions do not support his promises. In February, in a move that drew the ire of the Bush administration and Egyptian democratic reformers alike, Egypt’s parliament, at the urging of President Mubarak, voted to delay local elections for two years. While Mubarak claims that this policy is simply a matter of allowing time for his administration to draft legislation to give more power to municipal governments, his dissidents assert this action is just another example of Mubarak’s monarchical ambitions. Popular opinion in Egypt holds that these actions are an attempt to defend National Democratic Party seats from the increasingly powerful Muslim Brotherhood opposition, in that hopes that the office of the presidency can be passed down the family line. Mubarak’s family denies this claim, however, as Mubarak’s son Gamal has publicly denied any intent to run.The prospect of a more democratic Egypt depends heavily on the reduction of both judicial and political pressures against the incumbent’s opponents. Hopefully, changes like this will allow for more political parties and candidates. Additionally, Egyptian democracy and the people’s confidence in its legitimacy will not survive if Mubarak does not implement the poverty, unemployment, and anti-corruption measures he has promised. Egypt has much to accomplish before it can be a stable and sustainable democracy.