March 06, 2005

More on Egypt

For the longest time, Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) consistently opposed and rejected any constitutional amendments despite repeated calls by the political class for more than a decade. It was hardly surprising thus when only a month ago, the president dubbed such calls "futile" and accused unspecified foreign parties of allocating $70 million to fund these demands. A few days later, his son Gamal who heads the NDP's Policies Committee stated that the Constitution is not a sacred text and could be amended.

Mubarak's surprise initiative seems to explain, through hindsight, why the obdurate security apparatus allowed three unprecedented anti-Mubarak demonstrations to take place from December to February when normally they would have been banned. But it also contradicts with the arrest of three activists at the Book Fair last February for distributing invitations announcing one of these demonstrations and more significantly, the arrest of opposition MP and leader of the recently formed Al- Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, Ayman Nour.

And if the president was planning all along to take this step, many are asking, why did his NDP recently talk opposition parties into backtracking their years-old demands for constitutional reform? And why did Mubarak, a proponent of slow and gradual change throughout his 24 years in office reverse this policy in a way that is reminiscent of Sadat's famous "strategic deception"?

To date, there are no clear cut answers. And despite the fogginess, the highlights of Mubarak's initiative are startling: for the first time in Egypt's modern history, the army will not be the only door to presidency. For some, this might usher a new era they like to call the "second republic". Hassan Nafaa, a prominent political science professor says this could be the case, depending on what the president has in mind. But because of the way the president announced his initiative, Nafaa told Al-Ahram Weekly, there are three possibilities. The "most chancy" is if Article 76 is amended and Mubarak decides not to run, allowing for his son Gamal, to do so instead. On the other hand, Mubarak might be seriously paving the way for radical constitutional reform that will transform the state from a military to a civil political establishment after he contests and wins the coming vote. In the third scenario, the parliament and NDP will make a point of placing difficult regulations that would make it impossible for other serious contenders to win or contest the elections.

From Al-Ahram

Developing, as they say. And, as I've said before, the devil is in the details. But frankly, I'd be quite surprised if Mubarak went with the third scenario sketched above. He's invited the world now, really, to scrutizine the next Egyptian presidential elections. He knows that the U.S. will be looking closely to see if he scuttles the effect of constitutional reform (rendering it but cosmetic) through onerous regulations and such. So I'm betting this is a pivot point in Egyptian political history. Yes, change will be gradual. But I think the train has left the station and it's heading towards truly legitimate reform.

MORE: Not really related to the above post; but an interesting Egypt-related read from a while back that I had missed (I've let my Granta subscription lapse and most of the pieces aren't available on line).

Posted by Gregory at March 6, 2005 03:02 AM | TrackBack (9)

"He knows that the U.S. will be looking closely to see if he scuttles the effect of constitutional reform (rendering it but cosmetic) through onerous regulations and such."

Wait a minute here. You mean like not allowing candidates to run unless they're vetted by The Party? Or not allowing political parties w/ viable constituencies to register?

Won't need to look too closely!

I think the real import of this may be if ole Hosni is unleashing something he can't control. E.g., groups start paying close attention to the vote counting and publicizing any discrepancies (though this has been tried before -- Ibrahim went to the hoosegow for it). But you're right that there is now going to be much greater scrutiny, and to its credit the Bush administration seems willing to snub-a-dub-dub when necessary in order to show a message. I have to say that I was surprised by that.

Posted by: praktike at March 6, 2005 04:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"He knows that the U.S. will be looking closely to see if he scuttles the effect of constitutional reform (rendering it but cosmetic) through onerous regulations and such."

Why would you think that?

If the Bush administration decides that democracy isn't working in egypt, that means Bush doesn't get the credit for bringing democracy to egypt.

Easier to say it's all fine now and getting better, and let it go at that.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 6, 2005 03:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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