Egypt’s Mubarak Orders Election Reform
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a revision of the country’s election laws and said multiple candidates could run in the nation’s presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak hasn’t faced since taking power in 1981. The surprise announcement, a response to critics’ calls for political reform, comes shortly after historic elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, balloting that brought a taste of democracy to the region. It also comes amid a sharp dispute with the United States over Egypt’s arrest of one of the strongest proponents of multi-candidate elections.
“The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will,” Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.
Mubarak Ã¢€” who has never faced an opponent since becoming president after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat Ã¢€” said his initiative came “out of my full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy.”
Good news indeed. The degree of fairness we can expect remains to be seen but this is a huge step forward. Steven Taylor notes, though, that there are some logistical issues even if Mubarak is serious:
[T]here isnÃ¢€™t too much time for an opposition candidate to campaignÃ¢€”there referendum to approve the amendment to allow the elections wonÃ¢€™t be for at least 6 weeks and then it would be less than six months until the election. Then, of course, there is the fact that state controls the media and that the security apparatus is in MubarakÃ¢€™s hands. His victory is all but assured at this point. The real question of democratic reform will what happens after the elections.
Indeed, from a strategic point of view it would behoove Mubarak to have as free a process as possible, as his chances of winning are quite good given the amount of time in question, the power of incumbency, and the perqs associated with having been the dictator since 1981. The cleaner the vicotry, the more he can claim to have reformed the system and have claimed greater legitimacy for himself. The whole scenario is right out of Dictatorship for Dummies.
One doesn’t survive a quarter century as dictator of the Middle East’s most important country without being both shrewd and ruthless. Mubarak obviously sees some writing on the wall that demands this action. I’m rather sure he’ll still be in charge after the election. Still, this is a huge first step.