Rumours abound as to why he was arrested now and what the long-term consequences will be. Some note that the NDP was starting a process of dialogue with the opposition on the day of his arrest and Nur had cheekily suggested that Mubarak should represent the NDP as the other parties would be represented by their leaders. Others claim that Nur had been too outspoken at a meeting with Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, the week before. Many think that the arrest is an attempt to discredit the party, foment divisions among its leaders, and maybe even stop it from contesting the elections while Nur is investigated. By arresting Nur, Mubarak has thrown down a gauntlet to Bush a week after his inauguration speech. And through provocative diplomacy he has alienated the Europeans by refusing to recognise a delegation representing the EU presidency that came to express concern. Now we will see if the project for political reform in the Middle East is real or rhetorical.
Mubarak continues to trade on Egypt’s strategic significance to manage the pressure for change. By being constructive on the Iraq issues at the Sharm al-Sheikh summit this week and promising to help with Israeli disengagement from Gaza, he is buying time for his regime. A senior European diplomat concedes: “Democracy poses a double conundrum for the west. Do you want the Islamists in power with their policies on gender, pluralism, etc? Do you want to threaten Egypt’s policy towards Israel, Iraq, etc?” The big test will come next month when the British government, as president of the G8, and the Arab League are due to host a joint summit on democracy and reform - in Cairo of all places. If the summit goes ahead with the situation unresolved, what hope there was for democracy in the Arab world will be languishing with Nur in his cell.