Sunday, February 27, 2005

More on Egyptian democratic reform 

The New York Times reports this morning that the Bush Administration is reacting cautiously to Mubarak's announcement that he will permit multi-candidate elections in Egypt this year.
Among the details that are as yet unclear, officials said, was how freely opposition candidates would be able to campaign, whether the state-controlled media would be permitted to cover all the candidates equally, whether the government would allow rallies in support of opposition candidates and whether international election monitors would be allowed.

The State Department, in a statement issued Saturday, said, "We strongly advocate in all countries guarantees of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, the press and the right of all citizens to participate fully in political life and to choose their own leaders."

The Arab News has more here, looking at some of the misgivings of the opposition.
Sherif Hetata, writer and husband of feminist Nawal Al-Saadawi who has announced her plan to take part in the presidential race, said Mubarak’s announcement would not change the situation as long as the state did not abolish laws that restrained political freedom. “What happened is just a concession to the internal and external pressure particularly from the United States,” said Hetata. “The president just wanted to show the world some creditability.”

It is not clear whether it is good or bad, in his mind, that the pressure cam "particularly from the United States."

Here's a report from last month on the arrests in Egypt that moved Condi to express "displeasure." Al-Jazz here:
Public opposition to Mubarak's standing in the September polls has been mounting, but this is the first time police have arrested people involved in the campaign. Earlier this month, about 100 people demonstrated against another Mubarak presidential term in Cairo and last month about 1000 people held a similar protest.

Ten days ago, James Joyner considered whether democracy in Egypt would lead to an Islamic government.

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, wrote an article last summer on the lack of prospects for democracy in Egypt.
Last November [2003 - ed.], President Bush delivered a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, spelling out the loftiest of his rationales for the war in Iraq—a determination to remake the political world from North Africa to the Arabian peninsula.... For Bush, one region in particular remained stubbornly unfree. “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?” he asked. The United States, he declared, had “adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East” that would depend on American “persistence and energy and idealism” but also on the Arab countries—not least, the most populous, powerful, and influential country in the region. “The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East,” Bush said, “and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

The logic of that rhetorical instruction was not lost on the Egyptians: just as Anwar Sadat, a quarter-century earlier, had flown to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel, Hosni Mubarak, an unchallenged four-term President, a modern pharaoh, should take the equally bold step of creating a constitutional democracy, even at the risk of surrendering power. Egypt is historically central, a civilization of more than seven thousand years’ standing, and, unlike the sectarian societies of Syria and Iraq or the arriviste dynastic oil depots of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it is a true nation-state, the center of nearly all currents, intellectual and ideological, in the Arab world. In Bush’s own mind, at least, he was encouraging a revolution from above, an Arabian perestroika. And the revolution, he made plain, ought to begin in Cairo.

There has, of course, been no such revolution in Cairo, and no sign of one. Part of the collateral damage of the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq is the erosion of American prestige and influence all over the world. Rather than take the democratizing cue from Bush, Mubarak’s regime has offered itself as an example to the United States: Spare us the pretense of an open society, its leaders imply.

Last summer, at least, the security situation in Iraq was seen to have undermined the cause of Arab democracy:
Abdel Moneim Said, who is the head of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank that works closely with the regime, was among many who told me that the American failure so far to establish security in Iraq has decisively undermined the idea of a democratization movement in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. “The United States is in a position that looks like Lebanon in the nineteen-eighties—occupation, resistance, as well as a competition among groups,” he said. “You want Egypt to democratize, to change, but Egypt has drawn the opposite lesson. Instead of creating a liberal model, we see chaos, and the Saudis and the Syrians see the same thing. Now you have arrived at a much more modest sense of a liberal state than you started with.”

Remnick's article is an excellent summary of modern Egyptian political history, anti-Americanism there, the declining fortunes of the jihadist movement in Egypt, and Mubarak's own war on terror. Read the whole thing, and hope that Remnick, who has been one of the sharpest observers of national change since Lenin's Tomb, writes a follow-up.

UPDATE: The Big Pharoah weighs in:
Now, I am not stupid nor am I living in la la land. Mubarak's decision today came after immense pressure from the US and the current earthquakes (the purple revolution in Iraq and the Hariri revolution in Lebanon) that shook the region days ago. However, I credit US pressure as the number one reason. Condoleezza Rice cancelled a trip to Egypt scheduled for next week because of the arrest of Ayman Nour and Mubarak's failure to "change". Well, it seems that Bush turned out to be bloody serious about this democracy in the Middle East thing. It also seems that Bushie will in fact make it to the history books that my grandchildren will be reading at school 50 years from today. If Syria or Iran fell, Bush can rest assured that he will add his name to the Lincoln-Wilson-Roosevelt-Reagan quartet.

I would say that it is a little early -- perhaps fifty years early -- to conclude that George W. Bush will become one of the great Presidents of history, but there is no question that he is having a good week.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis rounds up the reaction of Egyptian bloggers. Via Instapundit.


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