An Egyptian-style vote
Wednesday, September 14,2005 00:00
By Ikhwan web

An Egyptian-style vote

WHAT IF they held an election and nobody much cared? In Egypt, barely 1 in 4 voters turned out for the first open presidential vote in a half-century.

A fifth, six-year term for 77-year old Hosni Mubarak was never in doubt. His party made sure its man came in first via an army of chanting and intimidating poll watchers, raffle prizes to loyalists and tailored ballot lists that excluded many young voters critical of Mubarak’s strongman rule. No foreign election observers were allowed.

It was hardly vindication for the White House’s sunny, post-Iraq dream of a Mideast nation breaking free of autocratic chains. But it was a small victory in this respect: There actually was a rough approximation of an election.

Stacked, pre-determined and hollow: All these adjectives apply. The results were so paltry that the morning-after analysis was absorbed in dissecting the second-place finish of a challenger who collected less than a tenth of Mubarak’s total.

But there are distinctions worth noting. The government-controlled press mentioned the challengers, all nine of them. Protest marches through Cairo streets were tolerated. Police thuggery was minimal.

It will take more political oxygen to bring democracy alive in Egypt. The future rewards for the United States are significant. Egypt is a cautious ally, a vital resource in negotiating Israeli and Palestinian differences, and a center of Arab culture and commerce. Washington pushed hard for the open vote and was mildly pleased with the results as a down-payment on future balloting.

With the presidential vote a foregone conclusion, the real test lies ahead. Parliamentary voting in November has the potential of producing grassroots lawmakers independent of country’s patronage-heavy single-party rule.

Mubarak has promised to allow this future vote and cede some of his power to the national assembly. A full and open test of his policies, not this past week’s cynical run-through, will be a genuine test of democracy.