Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Election "Reform" in Egypt

The Egyptian legislature on Tuesday passed a constitutional amendment "that opens presidential elections to multiple candidates, but opposition figures protested that its stringent conditions would make the September election a one-man referendum for President Hosni Mubarak," says today's New York Times.

Under the amendment, "any independent candidate seeking to run would need the support of 250 elected politicians drawn from the People's Assembly, the Shura Council, or upper house, and the provincial councils in each of 26 governorates" - but "no independent could come close given the domination of [ruling National Democratic Party] members." The proposed amendment must still pass a national referendum before the end of the month.

Says Mostapha K. al-Sayyid, a member of the opposition Kefaya movement, "This is a political trick which makes a mockery of democracy. The amendment gives veto power to the ruling party to decide who will run in the elections."

A coalition of other opposition leaders, calling itself Enough, led a protest in downtown Cairo. Founder Abdel Halim Qandeel said "We're not going to recognize the legitimacy of the amendment. We're cutting another road. We will try to mobilize the people to participate in civil disobedience to end the regime's rule. ... We want to preempt a bloody social explosion." Pro-Mubarak rallies were also held.

In the LA Times, a "senior Bush administration official" is quoted as calling the amendment "not perfect, but a step in the right direction. This exceeds what we thought would happen." The official added, however, that "the prospects for a truly contested election are pretty slim."

The Christian Science Monitor covers the amendment's passage today as well, as part of a larger piece titled "Egypt Backtracks on Reforms," which reveals that along with the weak elections rule, the government "has arrested more than 1,000 political opponents [and] allegedly attacked an opposition group" in the last week.

On Saturday in Latvia, President Bush said that Egypt's elections "should proceed with international monitors, and with rules that allow for a real campaign." The steps taken by Egypt so far do not meet this (minimal) requirement, and Bush should say so - loudly and often.


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