Truman Show

Anyone who believes that U.S. President George Bush is succeeding in Iraq can believe that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is undertaking reform in Egypt; but neither is happening in reality.  Constitutional amendments in Egypt, intended to burnish the state’s democratic image, have instead made it a laughingstock.  The amendments provide for the creation of an electoral commission about which no one knows anything except that it will be appointed by the all-powerful president.  Elections are dominated by Mubarak’s party and falsified by his security apparatus, which is not subject to any oversight or accountability.  As for the argument that the amendments shift powers from the presidency to the parliament, one must remember that the parliament is dominated by members of Mubarak’s party, who won their positions in fraudulent elections.  How can they exercise any authority over the president if they owe their positions to him?

Among the supreme ironies of this process is the argument by Mubarak and his National Democratic Party (NDP) that it was necessary to amend Article 5 of the Constitution in order to prevent religion from dominating politics. In fact the NDP itself is the most backward and religiously inflexible of Egypt’s parties, as demonstrated by its recent vicious campaign against Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni—himself a minister in the NDP government—because he expressed a negative view of women who wear the veil.  It is also the party that insists on seeking out the opinions of religious scholars on the law for organ transplants, the passage of which the NDP has blocked.  It is the party that most vigorously celebrates religious occasions and that inserted a constitutional article in 1980 naming Islamic law as the primary source of legislation in the country.  It is a party that manipulates Muslim citizens’ emotions exactly as the religious movement does and plays on Coptic Christians’ fears to win their support.  The NDP then turns around and deceives naive Americans with its prattle about prohibiting religiously based parties.

In fact, the NDP also does its best to prohibit new parties with a secular basis. The Shura Council’s Political Parties Committee, dominated by the NDP, blocks the way for all new parties except for a trivial few that are led by unknowns, most of them lackeys of the security apparatus, and have little potential constituency. Although the change to a proportional representation system is supposed to improve the chances of opposition parties, one must ask how it is possible for any party to triumph over Mubarak if the committee that approves the establishment of new parties is controlled by Mubarak’s party.

Regarding amended Article 179 and the prospect of replacing the state of emergency with a new anti-terrorism law, the reality is that Mubarak cannot survive in power a single moment without the protection of exceptional laws of some kind.  With a new anti-terrorism law, Egypt will be like the shopkeeper who, upon finding that his customers do not like his merchandise, renames his shop but keeps selling the same old products.

President Mubarak has lived for some time in a virtual world—much like the main character in the American film The Truman Show —imagining himself to be presiding over political reform and economic growth.  The difference between the Truman Show and the Mubarak Show, however, is that Truman did not know that everything around him was a fabrication whereas in Egypt, Mubarak is not only the main character but also the producer and the director of this charade—who nonetheless becomes very angry when we say that there is no reform.  Egypt is falling into an abyss and we are continuing, with great energy, to dig deeper and deeper.

Ibrahim Eissa is the editor of the independent Egyptian daily al-Dustur. This article was translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham.