Democratic Mirage: The Long Road Ahead in Egypt

Article excerpt

In the Egyptian presidential elections of September 2005, President Hosni Mubarak's fourth re-election came as little surprise to the Egyptian people or the international community as a whole. Although lauded by some, progress of Egyptian democracy has been undermined by the detainment of political opposition, a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood party, allegations of voter intimidation, and inaccurate electoral rolls.

Opposition leader Ayman Nour, Mubarak's only serious competition, was detained in January 2005 by the Egyptian government under allegations that he had forged the signatures necessary to validate his recently formed Egyptian Party of Tomorrow's (al-Ghad) legal status. His co-defendant, Ayman Ismail, confessed to committing acts of forgery on Nour's behalf but later recanted, claiming police blackmail was used in order to elicit his testimony. While Mubarak's party, the National Democratic Party, insisted that the matter was based on judicial grounds, the Bush administration criticized Nour's recent detention. While such international pressure led to Nour's release and postponed his trial, he ran in the presidential elections with a heavily damaged reputation.

Most Egyptians have remained skeptical of their nation's move toward democracy. Due partially to the country's pattern of corrupt presidential referendums, voter apathy pervaded the election with only 23 percent of voters turning out. In addition, candidate exposure was heavily one-sided--opposition-party postering was overwhelmed by National Democratic Party advertisements, many of which were paid for by independent businesses or the party masquerading as such.

Mubarak secured his fifth term by pledging to reform both Egypt and its constitution. Shortly after the election, opposition parties and their leaders decried the referendum as having been unfairly influenced. For example, Mubarak's critics claimed that opposition voters were turned away from polling sites. The Egyptian government reported 88.6 percent of the vote for the incumbent Mubarak, just 7.6 percent for Nour, and only 2.9 percent for the Nafd party leader. Members of the two smaller parties, the Nafd and the al-Ghad, took to the streets to protest the alleged rigging of the election by Mubarak and to call for another presidential election. Egypt's electoral commission dismissed claims of fraudulent results and refused calls for another election.

While the al-Ghad party was permitted to participate in the election, red tape and complications still obstruct other political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, whose parliamentary candidates had to run as independents. The party, banned by the government in 1954 under a law against religious political groups, claimed that the government's arrests of party officials intimidated voters. Egyptian security forces dismissed the allegation that the arrests were part of an underhanded strategy to detain party members as wanted criminals. …