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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Winds of Change blowing a gale in Egypt 

In my last post, I talked about democratic developments in the Middle East.

One takes a risk when attempting to identify an historical trend. It can turn out that the events described were simply a blip, and the trend can be proven illusory by subsequent developments. If, however, major historical developments take place that follow the identified trend, this is an indication that one may just be onto something.

One country I left out of my Winds of Change: Democracy and Security Outlook in the Middle East article was Egypt - because nothing in particular had changed. Since the Free Officers' Coup of 1952, all Opposition political parties have been banned, and although elections take place, only the (until now mis-named) National Democratic Party can run.

However, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently announced democratic reforms for Egypt (article), involving a referendum to change the constitution so that multiple parties could stand in the upcoming Presidential Election, which had hitherto been expected to serve merely as a rubber stamp.

A number of caveats must be provided here.
  • The elections still have not happened, and observers wonder whether any steps will be taken to impede the normal freedoms of the opposition parties, foremost among which is the Wafd Party.
  • Given the period of time that opposition parties have been banned, it must be wondered whether they will be capable of competing fairly against the ruling 'National Democratic Party'.
  • This step still will not provide the democratic election of representatives to the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council, Assembly), and therefore can only be seen as a first step to democracy, albeit a very significant one.
  • One of the most important political groupings in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, with the goal of establishing an Islamic State. Breakaways from the Muslim Brotherhood include Muhammad Abd Us-Salam Faraj, whose group assassinated President Sadat, as well as Ayman al-Zawahiri's and Usama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. One wonders what electoral response the Muslim Brotherhood would command today. It is probable that its more moderate core would maintain the most electoral support and be best positioned to contest democratic elections, given that many moderates have already been allowed into the political system.

    Despite the above caveats, it must be reiterated that this is an historic move. Mubarak specifically stated that this reform was conducted in keeping with the times. Let's hope that other countries - such as Syria and Iran - give way to the current of history in the Middle East, so that we can have a happier, freer and ultimately a safer world.

    (Originally via Jan Haugland, who is now reporting on calls for democracy in the UAE)
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