Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Word On Egypt Before I Run

The election “reforms” announced by President Mubarak weeks ago have drawn the interest of many around the world including within political circles here in the US. Initially, I thought President Bush reacted well to the announcement by describing the move as encouraging but cautioning that more needs to be done in order to ensure free and transparent elections in Egypt. The president repeated that theme as he prepared to meet with the Egyptian Prime minister last week. President Bush insisted on independent international monitors , guarantees for equal access to media and a halt to intimidation tactics used against opposition candidates. Several weeks ago, Secretary Rice delayed a planned visit to Egypt in order to protest against the jailing of an opposition leader by Egyptian authorities. Signs were emerging for the first time that the US government was willing to openly challenge one of its closest authoritarian allies in the region. It was great news for those of us who are hoping for a new beginning in the region; a new US policy direction that would stress justice and democracy over short-term US interests.

Today, the first lady called the "initiative" taken by Mr. Mubarak both "wise and bold". This, obviously, shocked me. It shocked me because the first lady should have known better. But, maybe she was just repeating what her aides told her to say. If this is the case, then I would be even more disappointed. See, I think the world of Laura Bush. I think she is the jewel of the Bush White House; the classiest first lady since Jackie Kennedy. That is why her statement is so frustrating to me. Therefore, I think she would pardon my intransigence when I say that her statement about Mubarak’s plan is extremely ill-informed. Here is why.

First, the so-called Mubarak "initiative" is a political trap that seeks no immediate opening up of the electoral system. In other words, it is smoking mirrors or, if you wish, a delay tactic used to extend the power grip of the ruling party under the guise of reform and democracy. Ninety percent of the current parliament in Egypt is controlled by the ruling party. Let me repeat that, 90%!! The proposed amendment to "reform" the electoral system requires presidential candidates to collect 300 signatures from "elected" officials in the "People's Assembly", the Shura Council and local assemblies. It further restricts nominations to members of party politburos. Good luck getting anywhere if you are an independent candidate - it simply won't happen.

Furthermore, this is an authoritarian regime whose ruling party controls all the political, security and defense institutions in Egypt. Now, have you heard of the vetting process used by the Ayatollahs to approve presidential candidates in Iran - it has been in the news lately. Well, what Mubarak and his party are proposing is not that dissimilar from that. Even when we assume no election fraud and no vote manipulation, how would anyone opposed to them obtain 300 signatures from them to run against them!!

Then, there is the issue of intimidation and vote fraud, which have been a fixture in every Egyptian "election" so far. The ruling party will flood the parliament with its agents (as has always been the case), require in the next election that presidential candidates must hail from a party that has at least 5% of the seats while they themselves control 90 percent and lock themselves institutionally, through something they sell to the west as "reform", into a position of power for many years to come. Nicely done!!

Look, this just can not go on the way it is. People's intelligence can not continue to be insulted in this manner by power-hungry dictators and our complicit silence about it. Now, I do not care how popular a government or a political party is, but there is no way, and I say no way, to consistently "win" over 90% of the vote when, among other things, the daily situation of ordinary citizens is by all indicators worsening. It just defies all sorts of logic unless Egyptians are into self-punishment, which I highly doubt. In fact, Egyptians have a long tradition of intellectual brilliance, which is the reason I truly believe that an internal victory for democracy in Egypt would have an immensely positive impact on the region as a whole -- the ever-ellusive Domino effect theory.

So, Madam First Lady, with all the respect that I have for you, I wish you could reconsider your statement. Even if we actually believe that Mubarak has had a call of conscience, which is highly unlikely, and decided to fly straight and grant freedom and democracy to the people of Egypt, wouldn’t we be excessive in describing him as “wise and bold”. Would you ever describe a decision by an abusive parent to beat their children less frequently as “wise and bold”. Don’t you think that would be insulting to the victims in this case? I do. Unless of course you are trying to use the negative image of the US in the Middle East to give Mubarak the ‘Kiss of Death’, hence, achieving the opposite of the impression you gave – Then, as the English would say: Brilliant!!


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. Such "reforms" have been done before... and look where we are now.

May 24, 2005

Blogger Khalij-Khazar said...

What if the Brotherhood made a political party, and decided to run in elections which were fair?

May 24, 2005

Blogger Jawad said...

My answer to that is: so what? By the way the Brotherhood is already a political party - just does not have the government approval to function as one. Look, this is the politics of blackmail: The idea used by authoritative governments in the region to tell the West: "hey, if we allow democracy, then extremists will take over, so you better chill and accept our dictatorship for what it is." That's what I call the politics of blackmail and the West has been swallowing it by the gallons. The fact of the matter is that when you have a fair election in Palestine, guess what, they voted for Fattah. Then people said Hamas will sweep the local elections - guess what again, Palestinians voted overwhelmingly for Fattah. In Iran when people vote, they do so for reformist candidates that are allowed to run. So, my position is let's stop the stereotyping and politics of blackmail and get to democracy the way it should be. If there is a price for it then let us pay for it now because God knows that the price will be so much higher for our children if we didn't move now.

A great example of a functioning democracy that I like to cite when talking about sectarian/religious/ethnic/etc divides is India. If we believe the notions put out there today, then democracy can not theoretically function in India - but it is. I bet you anything Khalij that the Muslim Brotherhood couldn't win the presidency in Egypt in a fair election - they would get representation in the people's assembly but they could not harness enough support to get the presidency.

May 25, 2005

Blogger Dahlia said...

Hi Jawad and thanks for your comment at Just Dahlia. I believe that we are of like minds but perhaps with slightly different approaches. Of course what is happening in Egypt is politics of appeasement within rigid boundaries with the objective of maintaining power. I have commented that change is necessary and inevitable, however if it is to be positive it must be holistic in its approach. In other words, the reality of changing the rules of the game in theory to allow multi-players while effectively only allowing one player is not lost on anyone. Everyone can see that it is still a game of solitary.

May 25, 2005

Blogger Khalij-Khazar said...

Good to hear Jawad.

I read an interesting book titled "Legacy of the Prophet" by Anthony Shadid, a Lebanese christian. He discusses some of the very same ideas you just mention.
A very interesting book that I would recommend.

May 25, 2005

Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Khalij, that sounds like an interesting book. I'll have to check it out!

May 25, 2005

Blogger Jallal said...


I can’t agree with you more on what you said. Moubarak proposes nothing more than a parody of free and democratic elections. The only thing positive about the last events in Egypt is the confirmation that this country has a strong opposition. Well aware that the system of choosing potential candidates rules out any true opposition or independent opponent (as you explained), the opposition called for boycotting the last referendum on Moubarak’s proposal of multicandidate presidential elections. The opposition voices were also very critical of the ruling party as a whole and of its hegemony on medias and on the political life. They continue to speak out and they aren’t compromising on their call for a genuine democratic system. I think there is no point of return. Egypt will end up having a better political atmosphere. The question is when? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be tomorrow…

May 26, 2005

Blogger Jawad said...

Dhalia: Welcome to my Blog. Dounia referred me to your site and I am very happy to have your input.

Khalij: Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll check it out.

Jallal: Welcome. As u said this is a critical point in our history and people need to realize that.

May 28, 2005

Blogger laurenbove said...

See, I think the world of Laura Bush. I think she is the jewel of the Bush White House; the classiest first lady since Jackie Kennedy. That is why her statement is so frustrating to me.

Uh, why are you under this impression?

June 07, 2005


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