February 27, 2005


President of Egypt Calls for Open Election: The announcement follows recent White House criticism of Mubarak's iron-fisted regime. (Megan K. Stack and Sonni Efron, February 27, 2005, LA Times)

Noting that Egypt needed "more freedom and democracy," Mubarak said he'd sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to amend the constitution to open the presidential election to political competition. [...]

After years in which his seemingly permanent hold on the presidency was seldom questioned out loud, Mubarak has been pelted with growing criticism. His tight grip on power has provoked demonstrations in the streets of Cairo and has drawn mounting calls for constitutional reform. Rumors that Mubarak's son, Gamal, was being groomed to succeed his father as president have intensified the anti-government grumblings of disgruntled Egyptians.

At the same time, the United States, Egypt's crucial ally and largest international donor, has shifted its tone, becoming more critical of Mubarak's iron-fisted regime. Bush rapped Egypt in his State of the Union address for failing to reform, and Rice reinforced that criticism last week with the cancellation of her trip.

Bush administration officials have not threatened, publicly or privately, to slash aid to Egypt. "Egypt is a very proud nation, and there's no point in humiliating them," said an administration official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "It would be counterproductive to do so."

The United States has prepared a $1-billion economic aid package aimed at revamping Egypt's deeply troubled banking sector. The package was ready Jan. 23, but it has not yet been signed. The administration has given no explanation for the delay.

"There were pressures building up to such a decision. The country is in crisis," said Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular party that has been officially banned in Egypt for decades but has joined the ranks of parliament by running its members as independents. "The regime moved wisely."

Among ordinary Arabs who have watched the upheaval unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and bemoaned long-standing U.S. alliances with tyrannical Arab governments, U.S. calls to democratize the region have been received with a mix of skepticism and hope.

Despite widespread doubt over U.S. intentions, themes of democracy and reform are much on the minds of Arabs this year. Voters have gone to the polls in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia, and an unprecedented wave of popular protest has welled up in Lebanon against Syrian domination.

But many analysts view Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, as the true testing ground for whether democracy can take hold.

Egypt's state-run television, which carried Mubarak's speech live Saturday morning, praised the president's announcement as "a historical decision in the nation's 7,000-year-old march toward democracy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2005 9:29 AM

Now THAT'S a "Long March".

Posted by: Noel at February 27, 2005 11:10 AM