Egypt Joins the Party


Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has called for "direct, multiparty presidential elections this year for the first time in the nation's history." This at least appears to be an about-face for the president, who only recently imprisoned a prominent liberal reformer, Ayman Nour, who had been leading a campaign aimed at just such a result. U.S. pressure may well have been a factor. Last Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled a planned trip to Cairo to protest Nour's treatment, indicating that she hoped to see signs of reform in Egypt.

Whatever the reasons behind the move, the larger issue is whether Mubarak means it, or whether he will use the appearance of reform to legitimize his continued rule (he's likely to win even a contested election in the September vote) and enhance his son's chances for succeeding him as president. Of course, that will depend on the details of any coming constitutional reform. The NYT quotes a skeptical political analyst named Ibrahim Eissa, who believes that "This is a way [for Mubarak] to improve his image with the Americans and to please them with some formal changes." Eissa regards the move as "deception."

The U.S. was pretty low-key about Mubarak's move. "We are hopeful," said a State Department spokesman, "but until we know exactly what the government is embracing, it is too early to declare that it is a major change."

Ayman Nour of the liberal, free-market Party of Tomorrow said carefully from prison that Mubarak's statement was "an important step towards the party's and the Egyptian people's demand for extensive constitutional reform."

The NYT's page-one story noted that Mubarak's announcement "follows historical elections in Iraq and Palestine as well as the first limited nationwide municipal polls in Saudi Arabia, leaving the region bubbling with expectations for political reform."