Wednesday, September 7, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Whither Egyptian democracy?

Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential elections were held today, and much of the press coverage echoes this London Times account by Richard Beesron: "the experiment in democracy risked being seriously compromised by intimidation, electoral abuse and widespread voter apathy."

Dan Murphy's account in the Christian Science Monitor includes corruption among the sins of this elecvtion:

The bus is rolling through the narrow dirt roads of Dar El-Salam, a down-at-heel Cairo neighborhood, and men and women are running to catch it, afraid they'll miss voting in Egypt's first presidential election.

The man with well-oiled hair cramming them into the rusty machine - festooned with portraits of President Hosni Mubarak - isn't collecting fare. Instead, he's gathering ID cards to be checked against voter rolls. Those will be returned, with 20 Egyptian pounds ($3.20), after his riders cast their votes - for the incumbent.

Sounds rather depressing. However, Steven Cook writes on Foreign Policy's web site that in the long term, Hosni Mubarak may get more reform than he originally planned:

[J]ust because the election was a sham, doesn’t mean that it was meaningless. The constitutional amendments that were instituted to make the election possible may just open the door for real democracy in Egypt....

Influential elements of Egyptian society are already mobilizing to push Mubarak’s changes further than he anticipated. Approximately 3,000 members of Egypt’s Judges Club, for instance, are insisting that they be given full authority to supervise the presidential elections to ensure polling is conducted freely and fairly. One astute Egyptian observer puts it this way: “Egyptian judges now know the power of making collective, public demands, buoyed by the admiration and support of pro-democracy forces and the glare of the international and domestic media.” Other groups are following suit, including journalists, human rights activists, Islamists, and even Egypt’s sclerotic opposition parties. All are signaling to Mubarak and his regime that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Mubarak’s appointed successor, whoever it is, will likely not be able to waltz through the 2011 elections by believing merely that his patronage network will be enough to trump these reform-minded forces.

While immediately unsatisfying, Mubarak’s constitutional amendments could make a significant impact on Egyptian politics in the middle to long term. Sure, the changes seem like yet another gambit to reinforce Egypt’s existing political order under the guise of reform. But they nevertheless have the potential—in combination with continued internal and external pressure for change—to provide the basis for significant moves toward real democracy. The status quo in Egypt is slowly slipping away. And by 2011, Egypt may have a president who is neither a military officer nor a civilian with the last name Mubarak.


UPDATE: The AP's Maggie Michael reports that Egypt's regime might be feeling some blowback earlier than he had anticipated:

More than 3,000 people marched through downtown Cairo at midafternoon -- by far the largest crowd ever drawn by the opposition group Kifaya, or "Enough" in Arabic. Police watched from a distance, despite government vows that protests would not be allowed.

posted by Dan on 09.07.05 at 04:46 PM


I'm not sure the direction this points in leads to democracy. It could conceivably lead to a more open political process and less concentrated power, which on the whole is likely to be a good thing. But the reports I've read suggest the dominant public reaction to the Egyptian elections is apathy. I understand it's different for what used to be called the intelligentsia and some others, but most Egyptians are not used to being consulted on national policies and cannot have much idea what to suggest if they were.

Again, movement away from autocracy is likely to be a good thing, even if Mubarak's autocracy has sometimes seemed more nominal than real. We just shouldn't get carried away in our thinking about what is possible now, or exaggerate how much democracy in Egypt we really need. The United States needs a humane, stable Egypt capable of exercising leadership in the Arab world. That's it.

posted by: Zathras on 09.07.05 at 04:46 PM [permalink]

In the current Commentary, Muravchik reports on recent visit to Egypt. His assessment of Kifaya: "there is no escaping the fact that democracy is advocated here not as a value in itself but as a method for strengthening the heroic fight against America and Israel. Movements that have come to power elsewhere on such programs have regularly discarded their democratic goals in favor of their heroic ones."
Mubarak's regime is a friend of America and at peace with Israel. It is not democratic. If Kifaya turns out to the chief beneficiary of a trend to democracy, Egypt could end up with a regime neither friendly to America, at peace with Israel, nor democratic.

posted by: SmallFaith on 09.07.05 at 04:46 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?