Friday, March 18, 2005

Ah, we all cheered, didn't we, when Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, under intense pressure from Future Fifth Face On Mount Rushmore George W. Bush, announced that Egypt would soon have elections involving more than one party. And we cheered again when Ayman Nour, newly released from an Egyptian prison, declared that he would challenge Mubarak for Egypt's presidency.

It's the inexorable march of freedom in the Middle East! Hail Bush!

Or, er, maybe not so inexorable:

... with the odds heavily against any rival to President Hosni Mubarak, Ayman Nour is so far alone in stepping forward.

Other opposition leaders are waiting for now, dismayed by what they call "the impossible conditions" they say guarantee that Mubarak -- 76 years old and the unquestioned ruler of Egypt for nearly a quarter century -- will be the winner in elections this September as usual, even after he decided to open the vote to competition.

Impossible conditions such as these:

Under the new rules, candidates must obtain a certain percentage of "recommendations" from the upper and lower house of the parliament, in addition to votes from the local city councils, as the first step toward eligibility.

The 47,000 members of the city councils are government bureaucrats, and the great majority are members of the ruling National Democratic Party who won their seats through unmonitored elections that were widely thought to be skewed in favor of the ruling party.

The council members' loyalty to Mubarak made them one of the regime's important tools against any popular uprisings. They also organize pro-government rallies, such as a huge state-orchestrated celebration for Mubarak when he arrived in Egypt after escaping an assassination attempt in Ethiopia in 1995.

So other candidates aren't stepping forward -- and, in fact, Mubarak's party is looking for candidates who'll step forward, apparently to make the fig leaf bigger:

...Diaa Eddin Dawoud, secretary-general of the Nasserite party, said the ruling party is actually searching for opponents to guarantee the elections look like a success.

"The National Democratic Party is nagging, pushing and implicating many party heads to enter into elections ... to give legitimacy to the election of a president," he said in a telephone interview....

So what is this election really supposed to accomplish?

Many opposition leaders fear that if the elections take place in such conditions, Mubarak will not only be a winner but will be mentioned in the history books as Egypt's modern reformist, and pressures from the United States and the West for real reform will ease.

Another worry is that the president will use the elections to ensure that his 41-year-old son, Gamal Mubarak, succeeds him.

Oh, and there was this last night from Dan Harris on ABC's World News Tonight:

And today, hours after his raucous campaign kickoff, Ayman Nour was taken back into state custody for further interrogation.

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