September 24, 2004


In Egypt, Reforms Are All Talk and Little Substance
: Ruling party says it welcomes change. But presidential term limits remain a taboo issue. (Megan K. Stack, September 24, 2004, LA Times)

A ruling party official stood before a throng of journalists this week and dangled tantalizing ideas: Opposition parties would grow strong, Egyptian youth would become involved and every kind of political reform would be up for discussion, including amending the constitution.

"The era of one-party rule is over," said Mohammed Kamal, nodding studiously over a vast bouquet of microphones as the ruling National Democratic Party kicked off its annual conference. "Egypt welcomes any initiatives for reform. All the doors are open."

Then an Egyptian reporter stood up to ask her question: Would President Hosni Mubarak run for a fifth straight term?

A murmur rippled through the room. Mubarak has held on to his presidency with sheer muscle for 23 years — and appears set to run yet again as the lone candidate in a presidential referendum in which the choice is either "yes" or "no."

Kamal frowned a little and scratched his hands.

"This is not discussed. We are not going to discuss it in this conference," he said curtly.

Cries went up from the reporters:

"The party is silent on these matters! Why? The referendum is next year!"

"The party works according to certain directives and orders," Kamal said. "This was not part of our directive to discuss. It won't be discussed."

So goes democracy in Egypt, where the only news at this year's much publicized, heavily guarded conference seems to be that nothing much has changed since last year. Despite the Bush administration's aggressive talk of spreading democracy in the Middle East, rulers here in the Arab world's center of intellectual thought seemed untroubled this week by pressure to win democratic legitimacy among millions of impoverished Egyptians.

Thankfully no one ever learns the lesson that Mikhail Gorbachev's experience taught most graphically, most recently: once you start talking reform, even if you're doing so to deflect reform, you cause the pressure for reform to build and events accelerate out of your control.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2004 9:17 AM

Worked great in Cuba, China etc.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 24, 2004 2:52 PM

Cuba? You've gotta stop reading the Red Worker Daily.

Posted by: oj at September 24, 2004 3:04 PM