Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian-American activist who spent well over a year in jail between 2000 and 2003 before a case against him was dismissed by Egypt's highest appellate court, is backing an unlikely amendment to the Egyptian constitution that would allow multiple candidates to be selected:
"If given the chance, I personally want to run (for president) to break the barrier of fear and intimidation," Ibrahim told The Associated Press. "Not that I have real hopes of success, but I want to show my fellow Egyptians that nothing should be a political taboo."
Under the current constitution, a presidential candidate is selected by the People's Assembly, Egypt's parliament, and then the public votes either "yes" or "no" in a referendum. In the current political climate where the ruling National Democratic Party controls over 80% of seats, this means that there can only be NDP candidates and that no one is likely to be selected to run against Hosni Mubarak, who's been president for nearly 24 years.
As the story explains, it is unlikely that this amendment, which is backed by 650 activists who signed a petition requesting it, will pass. There have been rumors that the NDP was considering accepting it to run a lame duck NDP candidate against the president to make a show that it is democratic. But surely they thought better of it considering that a) it would look ridiculous, b) it might create an expectation of debates, or at least different platforms, between candidates and c) they are unlikely to encourage the idea that there could ever be anyone better than Mubarak to lead the country.
The truth is the current system -- outside of the immediate political conjecture -- should be replaced by direct elections of the president, as you find in most countries that at least pretend to be democracies. (Strangely, that doesn't technically include the US, since the presidential elections there are indirect. In fact, technically the "electors" are meeting on 13 December to elect the next US president. But that's another story.) After all if parliament retains control of what candidates can present themselves, there can never be a chance for underdogs to enter the political limelight (think Nader, Buchanan, Perot in the US.) Direct presidential elections would give the existing parties as well as movements like the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to campaign in a way they really never have before, and would crystallize symbolically the idea that there could be a president who is not from the ruling party, or indeed who is not from the ruling military junta.
Aside from this, the elections that are coming up in fall of 2005 are going to be very important. After 24 years of Mubarak it is time for him to resign, even if you're of the opinion he's done a good job. Otherwise we're going to see the Bourguibasation of Egypt at a time when the country is in dire need of young blood, a new direction and effective leadership. At this point, no matter about how you feel about Mubarak, it should be clear that it's time for a fresh start -- even if it's still not democratic or another army general. Time is running out.