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Saturday, February 26, 2005
Democratic Reform in Egypt? We Shall See

By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:05 am

Via the AP: Egypt’s Mubarak Orders Election Reform

“The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will,” Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.

Mubarak–who has never faced an opponent since becoming president after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat–said his initiative came “out of my full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy.”

While I am hardly naive enough to think that Mubarak has just declared liberal democracy in Egypt, or that there will be truly competitive elections immediately, this is still an intriguing announcement and one that warrants some optimism. It also is one that demonstrates that what has happened in Iraq has already had some of the desired effect (along with the elections in Palestine, which came about in no small part because of US pressure).

Even though I will wager that whomever it is that runs against Mubarak (and even committed democrats will be reluctant to run too hard, given that possibility of serious retaliation) will lose, and lose badly, the very fact that the Egyptian government feels the need to mark overtures means a crack is forming in the authoritarian control that the state has. Further, such a move should have the effect of making it easier for opposition forces to organize, which is currently difficult to do under Egyptian law. As such, there is great potential for unintended (at least from Mubarak’s POV) consequences.

Still, even if the elections are free and fair (unlikley, to be sure), there isn’t too much time for an opposition candidate to campaign–there referendum to approve the amendment to allow the elections won’t be for at least 6 weeks and then it would be less than six months until the election. Then, of course, there is the fact that state controls the media and that the security apparatus is in Mubarak’s hands. His victory is all but assured at this point. The real question of democratic reform will what happens after the elections.

Indeed, from a strategic point of view it would behoove Mubarak to have as free a process as possible, as his chances of winning are quite good given the amount of time in question, the power of incumbency, and the perqs associated with having been the dictator since 1981. The cleaner the victory, the more he can claim to have reformed the system and have claimed greater legitimacy for himself. The whole scenario is right out of Dictatorship for Dummies.

At a minimum the fact that Mubarak feels the need to make such public concessions means that Bush’s pro-freedom foreign policy is having some tangible effects in the world. The irony is that it will likely have the effect of strengthening his hand in the short term, even if it damages the authoritarian nature of the state in the medium-to-long term.

Regardless, it does demonstrate that the more democratic activity that Arabs see on their tvs from other parts of the region, the more they are likely to demand such reforms at home.

And this, of course, is steeped in irony:

The audience before him at Menoufia University broke into applause and calls of support, some shouting, “Long live Mubarak, mentor of freedom and democracy!” Others spontaneously recited verses of poetry praising the government.

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  1. A lot has happened in the world since Bush took the oath of office just barely a month ago. Coincidence?

    Comment by Remy Logan — Saturday, February 26, 2005 @ 5:34 pm

  2. Mubarak hasn’t done anything substantive. The most significant political opposition is declared illegal by Parliament and will not be able to participate in the election.

    The leader of Ghad is in jail.

    Mubarak is a thug. This “election” will be as much of a sham as previous plebicites in Egypt.

    Comment by Kappiy — Saturday, February 26, 2005 @ 10:23 pm

  3. Kappiy,

    I pretty much said as much (note what I said about short v. medium/long term effects(. However, as one who studies democratic transitions, I thik that this is an important concession for Mubarak and while it will stengthen him, it does have the potential of weakening the long-term grip of authortarianism in Egypt. Authoritarian states which have to make such concessions are making an admission that the status quo isn’t fully working for them. Once change is introduced in a static system its effects are unpredictable and almos t always damage the status quo ante.

    That it will lead to liberal democracy is a flight of fancy at this point, but that it will lead to soe sort of liberalization is quite possible.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Sunday, February 27, 2005 @ 10:27 am

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