Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Referendum in Egypt

This is something i wrote the same afternoon that President gave his speech at the Menoufiyya University, announcing his intention to ask Parliament to consider an ammendment of what turmed out to be article 76 in the constitution. In this way opening up for direct multicandidate elections to the presidency.

26 February 2005

In a surprise move, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced in a live appearence on Egyptian televison that he had asked the Egyptian parliament to make an amendment to the constitution to allow multiple presidential candidates to run for the presidency. The change in the constitution will be put to a referendum before the presidential election , due in September 2005.

The calls for a change in the constitution has been intensified for the last three months in what seems to be the toughest political challenge yet to the Mubarak government. After making the largest cabinet reshuffle during his 23 years tenure as president in August 2004, bringing in fresh blood , many of te new ministers closely connected to the son of the President , Gamal Mubarak, and his reformcommitte within the dominant political party, National Democratic Party (NDP). The new government led by PM Ahmad al Nazif is very much focused on economic reform , and within that framework the anouncement of a trade treaty between Egypt , USA and Israel, where the crucial part was the establishment of tax free zones, where Israeli high tech equipment should be part of the Egyptian products created soley for export. Eventough the precentage of the Israeli contribution ammounted only to 11 %, the symbolic significance of this treaty touched on the extremely delicate issue of nornalization of relations with Israel. Since the Camp David accord , Egypt has had " a cold peace " And normalization has been taboo in the political circles in Cairo, as well as among ordinary people. And now Ehud Olmert , the Israeli deputy PM sat next to Hosni Mubarak in Cairo,in what looked like a deal forced upon the egyptians without Egypt getting anything in return. This caused an uproar in the egyptian media. It did not help that Mubarak in a sudden change of heart, a week prior to the agreement announced to the world that Ariel Sharon was indeed the man with whom to make peace. Of course as the icing on the cake of the newfound "lovestory" between Egypt and Israel came the hosting of the Sharm al Sheikh summit and the subseqent return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Tel Aviv.

On a parallel domestic political track , the party license committee, headed by the speaker of the majlis ash Shura(the upper house) issued two new party licences in a month time, unparraleled in the quarter of a century it has working on these issues , it had also in the meantime scrapped al wasats third try to obtain a license. Wasat(center), a party made up from the youmnger generation , once associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and some christians as Rafiq Habib . The party has islamist leanings but not necesserally an ilamist plattform, wich of course is not allowed according to the constitution. This could prove to be a party with potential, but that is for the future. One of the parties allowed was Ayman Nours ,
Ghad(tommorow) , once the up and comming golden(boy) starlet of the new Wafd Party, untill being pushed out of the party by the new party leader. Then independent parliamentarian looking for a party , al Ghaád(tommorow) , where constitutional reform has been at the center of the party policy. Attracting a new generation of liberals , the Ghaád party is perhaps the most interesting contribution to the party politics of Egypt since the approval of the New Wafd party in 1978, because it gives an alternative to the silent mainstream of the egyptian populace, a generation fostered to be apolitical, people who have viewed the political game in apathy. All the more painful then , that the same tactics used against the new wafd in 78 is once again used to discredit the Ghaád. In the same type of misscalculation as Sadat 1978, no one seemed to have appreciated that this party could be for real, not interested of playing the roll of loyal opposition. Since getting the partylicence Ayman Nour has proven that the party intends to be a real political contender. The answer from the state was to charge him with forging 2000 names while in the proccess of applying for the party lisence. The way it was handled was also reminicsent of another case , the Social science professor of the American University in Cairo, Saad ad Din Ibrahim in June-July 2000. Ayman Nour was stripped of his parliamentarian immunity, arrested on the steps of parliament, his appartement searched, papers and commputer taken, and put in Tora prison for 45 days. He´s currently on a hunger strike since tuesday, suffering from a heartcondition and diabetes. In another development the Ghaád Party meeting held in solidarity with Ayman Nour at the five star Pyramisa hotel was disrupted by 22 men, psysically attacking three prominent members of the party. Pressure from the USA has also been an ingreedient in this, altough Mr Nour himself has asked specifically not for foreign governments to get involved. Foreign involvement in Egypts internal problems is also an issue of controversy, once again a direct paralell to The Ibrahim case. A few days ago, when the egyptian foreign minister was visiting Washington , during a press conference after his meeting with Condoleeza Rice, Minister Rice got a question if the ministers spoke about Ayman Nour during the meeting. Ms Rice expressed the american government deep concerns about the case of Mr Nour. Rice supposed to take part , later retirated from that position , indicating that she vold not go. The next day , the conference between the Arab League and the G8 countries on democratic reform, schedueled for next week was canceled.

Another interesting development is the announcement of three prominent intellectuals, that they intend to run for the presidency,among them, the highly controversial female author and doctor Nawal as Saadaáwi, the almost as controversial , abovementioned sociology Proffessor Saad Eddin Ibrahim , but perhaps the most encouraging sign is the evolving Kifaya movement, wich has staged five demonstrations since the 13th of december, the first outside the high court only had about 50 persons participating the latest had somewhere between 250 and 500. The movement has a very simple message - Kifaya(enough) , enough of Mubarak, no fifth term in office, and no to Gamal Mubarak as his succesor. The demonstration is always silent, people having stickers on their mouth and banners with Kifaya.

It will be interesting to see wich way the government will choose , if it is the path started today , or the path of old, of intimidation , obstruction and sillencing of the political opposition.



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