Egypt: Democracy made by the people [Archives:2005/876/Viewpoint]

September 12 2005

Despite the fact that President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth six-year term with 70+ percent of the vote amid allegations of election irregularities, many consider the election process as a step towards democracy.

The main fact remains that Egyptians are part of a phase of activism that has not been sanctioned for a long time now. The rise of the Judges Club and their clear stance as an NGO regarding the elections, and the involvement of many opposition organizations is admirable. I believe we can say now that Egypt as a nation is coming back to life.

The Egyptian people are not aware that they can talk more freely than before. This is perhaps the most liberal moment of political dialogue since independence. Although in some occasions the criticism of President Mubarak and his son have been severe, there is clear evidence that Egyptian politics and media are opening up.

When I asked recent visitors to the Egyptian Captial during the campaigning whether the other 9 candidates had the space and freedom to promote their agenda they said yes. Spectators say that Mubarak has taken over the lime light, yet other candidates in the first time were able to compete and promote themselves as future presidents of Egypt.

However, as Hisham Kassem, the vice president of the opposition “Al Ghad,” or “Tomorrow” party rightly puts it: “It is a process, that doesn't end with the elections,”.The party's president, Ayman Nour, was the strongest candidate running against Mubarak.

The election has inspired many students and young people to get involved in the political process. Mubarak will be reaching 80 years of age in two years time, and to many Egyptians, especially youth, he has been in power long enough. Egypt's first popular movement for change saw the election as a chance to expand its base and convey this message. The “Kefaya” or “Enough!” movement was the first group to defy emergency law by boldly protesting against Mubarak in the street. The group's leader, Abdel Halim Qandil, called the elections “legally and politically false” and contends Mubarak has used the election to expand his power and to help ensure that his son, Gamal, will succeed him. Whether Gamal would be a better representative of the Egyptian youth, is another question altogether and must be answered in the next elections, or as Qandil predicts much sooner than that.

The election, flawed though it was, has helped to empower peoples politically and increased expectations for reform.

On the other hand Washington's reaction despite information about falsification operations in certain ballot centers was quite positive. It termed the elections as the “first positive strides”, a reaction very different to that of the Iranian elections. On a more local front, Yemen will be going through elections soon. Will Yemen learn from other countries experiences?