Ibn Khaldoun Center on Albright

The Ibn Khaldoun Center, the institution which hosted last week's meeting with Madeline Albright (and others) in Cairo, has published a press release on the event. Since there has been some discussion of this meeting over the past few days, I am posting it in full here. I also wanted to mention something else that might enlighten readers about how such events are frequently spun in what is known in Egypt as al sahafa al safra ("the yellow press"). The "independent" weekly Al Osboa ("The Week"), which has strong ties to the security apparatus, had as the following front-page, top-fold headline: "The Deceitful Visit: Albright attacks our house." It was accompanied with a most unflattering picture of Albright and Saad Eddin Ibrahim. I'll have more to say about this and how it ties in with reform and Bush's inauguration speech soon. But first, I have to finish an article (the kind I get paid for) on the topic.
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More on Nour's arrest

I spoke to Ayman Nour's wife, Gameela Ismail (who is a journalist and in charge of public relations for Hizb Al Ghad) tonight. She told me that the case against her husband was expedited with highly unusual alacrity, on a day that would normally have been a holiday. State Security notified the Prosecutor General of an investigation and charges against Nour on Friday the 28th. The Prosecutor General in turn informed the Minister of Justice, and the Head of Parliament was notified late that same night upon his return to Egypt from abroad. By early Saturday morning, Parliament was convened and Nour was told to come because they were discussing lifting his immunity. By 10:30 am immunity had been lifted, and outside Parliament he was arrested by state security forces (on charges of forging powers of attorney for 1100 or so founding members he represented). Ismail says that in the course of a six hour house search, police removed papers, documents, checkbooks, computers, CDs, videotapes, and medicines from the Nour residence. They also gathered documents from Nour’s office, including all the legal files of his clients (Nour works as a lawyer). After her husband’s arrest, says Ismail, he was taken to the High State Prosecution in Heliopolis. He was questioned from 8 pm to 6:30 am on Saturday night, says Ismail, who spoke to him briefly in the morning. Speculation as to causes that might have triggered the government to move against Nour abounds (as you've seen from Josh's post). Ismail has her own theory: “It’s all a dirty political conspiracy by which they want to stop him attending the dialogue of the opposition. He presented an advisory last week to the head of the Shura Council asking for equivalency between the different parties�—meaning that the secretary general of the NDP would meet with the secretary generals of each party, and the presidents of opposition parties would meet only with the president of the NDP...that is President Hosni Mubarak himself. Nour also requested that the session be open and covered by the press and the media. Nour is supposed to be in for four days of questioning, so maybe we'll hear from him by Wednesday.
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Albright at Ibn Khaldun

Ehab Hashish & others working for the Kuwaiti Daily, al-Rai al-Aam, published a story on the front page of their newspaper (27th of January 2005) detailing an Albright-led delegation's visit to Cairo's Ibn Khaldun Center. If Chatham House rules were in effect, this is a violation because they names names and cites direct quotes. To quote the frm sec of state (I am citing and translating her quotes from Hashish's article): - "We cannot impose from outside - every country has to implement a democracy that suits it" - "How do you [Egypt] make a viable opposition that will be popular. We want to support such a movement but how do we do that and not take away from its legitmacy?" - "Is it possible to support a opposition movement without internally destabilizing?" - "We have the tools to help. How do we do it without imposing [reform?]. There are many ways to help that don't have to look like they come from America" - "Democracy creates stability and authoritarianism creates instability." (here she is quoting Clinton) - "Egypt is a mediator and relations with the US go up and down. But they are important. No one denies that Egypt is regionally important. It is significant because of its relationship with America, its relations in the Arab-Israel conflict, and broker role with other Arab states." We are all lucky to have Hashish's insightful record of the meeting.
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Hizb al-Ghad's President, Ayman Nor, Arrested

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Hizb al-Ghad (Party of Tomorrow) in Egypt. They have been publishing things from local press to Daily Star, entertaining foreign embassy staff, and visiting delegations. Mona Makram-Ebied is the party's the spokesperson. I have been arguing with anyone I can get ahold of that she, in particular, is treated with far more seriousness than need be. I also have made argument that the party was going to have problems because of the personalities involved. Nonetheless, analysts are running around and trying to figure out what hizb al-ghad means. Is this truly a liberal party? Is this going to revive party life? Is this a sign the gov is relaxing its grip? While there have been some surprise moves, such as al-Misri al-Youm's manager Hisham Kassem joining the newly licensed entity (as of 27 Oct 04), others have left. Resigned MP and independent businessman Mohamad Farid Hassenian left after a despute with the party's leadership. It is the leadership of the party that is important. Besides Makram-Ebid, The party's president, Ayman Nor, is the most widely known opposition MP in the country. Formally of the Wafd (he was kicked out by Noman Goma when Goma consolidated his position there), Nor was independent but pinning for a legal party. Nor's constituency, Cairo's Bab al-Sharqaya, is off limits to the government which is unable to take Nor's seat away (even through election fraud). He is just that popular. I predicted Hizb al-Ghad would implode - likely in a fight between its leadership and their indiviual political ambitions (i.e. they are not team players). Apparently, three months without implosion was too much for the government to take so they made their move, and by doing so, disclosed that 2005 was not going to be "the year of independent, autonomous liberal opposition parties". In a surprising move yesterday (Al-Ahram, 30 January 2005, page 22), the Justice Minister approached parliament noting that al-Ghad's president was up to no good after they had carried out an investigation. Parliament, never one to stand up for certain types of its members, pulled Ayman Nor's parliamentary immunity and he was arrested by the security services. The allegations are that he forged official government stamps on his party application. Also, it alleges that 1887 of the party's 2005 founding members were forged. The register (Ra'isit maktab al-Shahr al-`aqary) in Maadi is saying that 1187 of the signatures came from his district alone. In a familar move, Nor's offices and house have been searched and security has his personal documents and computers. This story is just beginning and details remain sketchy. But it just would not be Egypt if there was not a high-profile political case going on to keep us all occupied. So now we wait and see. This also corresponds nicely though to the ongoing National Dialogue between the legal opposition and the NDP. I think their next meeting is to convene tomorrow (maybe tues). That was proving a bit boring. The Tugamu, Nasserists, and Wafd all came out and agreed to NDP's sec-gen (Safwat al-Sharif) call to abandon the calls for consitutional reforms regarding the president's terms limits or style of popular appointment (currently single candidate referendum not direct contested elections) until after October's parliamentary elections. It was generally assumed that al-Ghad would be the largest opposition party represented in parliament this fall (mind you last time all the opp parties won like 15 seats or something laughable out of 444 contested seats). Now with Nor arrested, things plan to get more sadly interesting before the elections. Well, it is a month late - but the government looks to have extended its new year's welcome to the oppositon. The Council on Foreign Relations was here last week meeting people. They were scheduled to meet Nor. Now, the CFR left on Friday night/Saturday morning. Nor was arrested on Saturday afternoon after his immunity was lifted. I am sure, however, the timing of the arrest was merely a coincidence. At any rate, I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see what is said by the CFR and other organs like it in Amrika... Anyone feel like spreading Middle East Democracy besides Bush?
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Bush NYT interview

Bush gave an 40 minute interview to the NYT which was published this morning as a sort of prelude to the State of the Union Address next week. Apparently, he does not have time to read Foreign Affair articles - even if written by Condi. He also ready to use Iraq as a jumping point for democratizing the Middle East. But the interview, and hence the article, were light on details as to the nature of his plans. It is the must-read of the day, I suppose.
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Pick your jihad

The AP has a story, seemingly mostly sourced from Saudi dissidents based in London, on how Saudi clerics in "the Kingdom" are encouraging wannabe mujahideen to fight in Iraq rather than at home. In other words, they are encouraging a split between Al Qaeda, which calls for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, and local Islamists who may be more interested in the issue of jihad in the Arab world at large. One might find it rather odd that the transnational group is calling for internal action while domestic players are trying to export the violence to Iraq -- until you remember that much of the Saudi establishment is actually broadly sympathetic to Al Qaeda's ideals, even if they don't want them applied at home.
LONDON - Fundamentalist Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia are telling militants intent on fighting "infidels" to join the insurgency in Iraq instead of taking up Osama bin Laden's call to oust the Saudi royal family at home, say Saudi dissidents who monitor theological edicts coming out of the kingdom.
Iraq as a battleground offers the solution to a quandary facing the Saudi clerics who have to both placate the kingdom's rulers and keep their radical base happy.
"If they preach that there ought to be absolutely no jihad, they would lose credibility and support among their followers. So what they do is preach jihad — not in Saudi Arabia, but in Iraq," said Abdul-Aziz Khamis, a Saudi human rights activist in London.
"To them, Iraq is the answer to their dilemma."
[snip]
Following another series of attacks last May, several Saudi clerics promised the government not to wage jihad, or holy war, inside Saudi Arabia and to refrain from recruiting activists from the Jihadis group, say Saudi dissidents. Two of them, Salman al-Odeh and Safar al-Hawali, even agreed to fight the Jihadis, although they agree with their ideas, said Khamis.
"Al-Hawali and al-Salman still believe in the principles of jihad. But now they link it with the authority of the ruler," said Khamis. "Al-Hawali finances and supports people who go to Iraq to fight there, but he is against fighting on Saudi soil."
[snip]
Saudi clerics such as Al-Odeh and al-Hawali have issued several fatwas saying jihad is legitimate in Iraq. Al-Hawali also opposes beheading foreign hostages for political reasons, even though he supports it from a religious point of view, said Khamis. Al-Odeh was among 26 clerics who called for jihad in Iraq last year.
Saleh al-Owfi, believed to be al-Qaida's leader in Saudi Arabia, claimed in a Web site statement that al-Hawali had asked him not to fight at home but to go to Iraq, and that he would arrange for him to go there, says Khamis. But al-Owfi replied that everyone should fight on his own turf.
Driving those fundamentalist clerics who are in their pockets against the Al Qaeda sympathisers may work to divert energy away from the movement against the Sauds, but it's not exactly the actions of an ally, is it?
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Last taboo

You will find below the first post by Simon Kitchen, a new occasional contributor to arabist.net. Simon comes from an economic and risk analysis background, a perspective that I am sure will enrich the debate. [issandr] In all the current discussion of political reform in the Middle East, and a possible dynastic succession in Egypt, the role of the military goes all but unremarked. Yet the Egypt military establishment continues to play a vital economic (perhaps a third of GDP is under military supervision or influence) and political role, and arguably has a veto over political reform and the succession of Gamal Mubarak as the next president of Egypt. Discussions over the candidacy of Saad ed-din Ibrahim and Nawal al-Saadawi, and possibility of more open elections in Egypt in 2004 are interesting, but they also function as a smokescreen, occupying the press and civil society while real power lies outside the NDP and the cabinet. During June 2004, Egypt was nominally governed by Prime Minister Atef Ebeid for nearly three weeks while President Mubarak recovered from surgery in Germany. But Ebeid was a lame duck, his pending resignation having been announced the week before. So who was in charge? The answer, in all likelihood, was Mubarak’s lieutenants in the military and intelligence establishment. Rami Khouri of the Daily Star raises the problem of the military’s role in Middle Eastern politics in an op-ed in the Daily Star. He mentions a recent report from the Brookings Institution, a centrist (at least by US standards) think tank, that examines the military establishments of Egypt, Pakistan and Syria, and their roles in influencing politics from behind the scenes. The report describes the ubiquitous of former and serving military and intelligence personnel at many levels of civilian life, and argues that civilian control over the military must be reestablished. The lewa (general) is an over-familiar sight in the Egyptian popular imagination: generals serve as the governors of Egyptian provinces, are in charge of gathering statistics, and are invoked in legal disputes as sources of wasta (political influence). Their sons are among Egypt’s most influential businessmen, something they have in common with their peers in Syria and Algeria. Algeria, oddly, is absent from the Brookings Institution’s report, even though the Algerian military establishment, the pouvoir, has also laid its deadening hand on political and economic reform. (Also absent, perhaps more understandably, is Israel, which has generally separated civilian and military authority. However, the lines seem to be blurring in Israel, with Shaul Mofaz quickly moving from Chief of Staff to Defence Minister in 2002. Moreover, current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon considered a less democratic route to power, a military coup, in 1967.) Western governments regard the military in Egypt – as in Algeria and Turkey - as a safe pair of hands, a bulwark against potentially disruptive Islamist and popular movements. The US state department sees the relationship with the Egyptian military as the cornerstone of the US-Egypt relationship; the Egyptian military sees the US as its most important ally. But the military is deeply conservative, and its attitudes are detrimental to Egypt’s political development: it’s ‘no beards’ rule has barred the Muslim Brotherhood from reasonable political participation since the 1970s, and has given the Brotherhood the easy legitimacy of an illegal opposition group. The Egyptian military plays its cards close to its chest, and it is difficult to gauge this corporate group’s attitudes to contemporary issues such as reform and the succession. I have heard that the military is now more positive about Gamal Mubarak’s succession than it was 18 months ago, having been persuaded that Gamal has intelligent associates and that his succession will be accepted by Washington. But the Brookings report is not the first to have mentioned Omar Suleiman, director of General Intelligence, as an alternative successor. Even if Gamal does succeed, he will likely be closely supervised by his father’s military peers and associates.
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GMEI 2?

As Issandr indicated, Bush's inaugural speech covertly unleashed the "freedom" doctrine. For those of us studying and living in the Arab world this meant the GMEI. In what feels like the film Groundhog day, Bush 43 admin 2 is looking about reviving the Greater Middle East Initiative (whether they call it that or not) which horridly failed last year. Today's Guardian had a superficial piece that touched on Bush's promises to expand freedom in the ME. The article was more useful in seeing what Americans think about this idea rather than the admin directly promising to pick up the pace in the region's "forced liberalization". The most troubling part of the piece is that most Americans according to a Gallup poll don't think that the Admin can achieve its goal of spreading democracy in the Middle East. Complicating this analysis though is the bit where nearly two-thirds of Americans polled actually thought Bush's inaugural speech was good or excellent. Only 11-percent thought the speech was rubbish. America is not special in this regard. People not thinking their government can deliever but still bestowing on it legitimacy exists everywhere (even surprisingly in the Arab world where many a book has been written about the lack of legitimacy these regimes' possess). The fact that most Americans approved of Bush's speech is more indicative of the millions of dollars thrown into the inaugural exhibition than human beings actually being aware of the consequences of continuing to let Bush think he has a mandate and "political captial". You may not be able to Shock and Awe Baghdad into political acquiescence but in democracies its easy. This spectacle proves worth it though.....anytime you can get the people to realize that your goals are flawed but they still approve indicates that the US government can engage in time-wasting affairs such like the doomed GMEI, which can only promises failure. That is unless the real goal of the GMEI and its potential re-emphasis is more to do with keeping Arab governments in-line and on-board with American strategic interests.
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Egyptian embassy replies to WaPo

The press attache of the Egyptian embassy in Washington has replied to the scathingly anti-Mubarak Washington Post editorial of a few days ago. Note that he makes use of the recent demonstrations to prove that Egypt is free after all:
The editorial concluded that the elections would be fraudulent before they were held. Ironically, the Cairo demonstrations that The Post mentioned are an indication of the increasingly open and healthy democracy that President Mubarak has promoted since his first day in office.
See, we must be free, there are people demonstrating in our country saying they are not free!
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A Palestinian Epic

I just saw the much talked about movie Bab Es-Shams (Door of the Sun), Egyptian director Yousri Nasrallah's adaptation of a the novel by Palestinian-Lebanese director Elias Khoury. The ambitious five-hour saga is a cooperation with the French ARTE TV channel, as well as with companies from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Morocco. It has a Pan-Arab cast, who were trained to speak Palestinian Arab by the Palestinian actors involved, and in general has rare high-quality production values (at least when compared to most Egyptian movies nowadays). The story opens with a literal bang, as a young and unidentified Palestinian woman guns a man down in an alley in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. The rest of the first installment of the movie (entitled "The Departure") is told in flashbacks, narrated by the woman's presumed lover while he sits at the deathbed of one of the main characters, and is the story of a family of Palestinian peasants driven out of their village after the Nakbah ("catastrophe") of the 1948 war. The story unfolds from multiple points of view (with characters sometimes contradicting each others' versions) but what is worth noting is that all these viewpoints are personal, powerless ones--none of those involved has any way of foreseeing will happen next, or much control over events. As I'll write in my review of the movie for the soon-to-be-launched Cairo magazine, the sequences that are the most moving and make the strongest political statement in my opinion are the ones that show the life of the Palestinian village before all is lost. There are several beautifully filmed, vibrant scenes of collective activities--a wedding full of trilling women in splendid traditional clothes, an olive harvest in which the trees pound like a sea, plucked by hundreds of a hands. These scenes show the dignity and vitality of Palestinian culture in the days before refugee camps. They give the lie to the claim that Palestinians "were never a people," and lay the emotional foundation for the anger, despair and determination of the dispossessed villagers. By the end of the first part of the movie, the young man in the family has carved the date in which his village was burnt to the ground into his arm and become a fedayeen; his wife still lives in Israeli-occupied territory; and the two meet clandestinely to make love in a cave over the border, nicknamed by them "the door to the sun." My only criticism of the movie is that the best acting is done by the lesser characters (the Palestinian Hiam Abbas is splendid as a dry, high-strung, domineering mother), that the tone is too melodramatic at times, and that a few plot twists are unrealistic. Then again, critics keep talking about the film's "magical realism," so maybe some scenes are meant to be understood metaphorically. Overall, though, it's a gripping piece of work. I couldn't help wondering if it will ever be widely seen in the United States, and what kind of an impact it might have. I think it would be shocking for American audiences to see the Palestinians "humanized" like this, and the Isrealis reduced to ominous shadows. Then again, it's unclear how many Egyptians will even get to see the film. It's only being shown in two theatres in Cairo, and according to this article it's partly because of a falling-out between the Egyptian movie production company owned by renowned Egyptian director Youssef Chahine and Bab Es-Shams director Nasrallah. This is a real pity, because I think Egyptian audiences would like this movie. And Nasrallah's work is much better than anything Chahine had been doing recently. To order the movie, see here. Here's also Al Ahram Weekly's review.
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Said on Egypt-Israel relations

Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies and a key mentor of Gamal Mubarak, penned this piece on Egyptian-Israeli relations for the Daily Star:
Yet Egyptian-Israeli relations are a function not only of Palestinian-Israeli, or even Arab-Israeli relations. The domestic economic and political situation in Egypt plays its part. It is not a coincidence that Egyptian-Israeli relations have deteriorated at times of declining Egyptian economic fortunes. Following a growth rate of 5-6 percent in the second half of the 1990s, the Egyptian economy went through a recession that dropped the rate of growth to about 2.5 percent in the first three years of the new century. With a population growth rate of about 2 percent, Egypt was effectively not growing at all.
Part of this downturn in the Egyptian economy can be attributed to the regional instability generated by the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. But by mid-2004, Egypt was about to review its reform policies, and with a new cabinet formed last July geo-economic concerns overtook geopolitical ones. The official Egyptian justification to the Egyptian public for signing the Qualified Industrial Zones deal with Israel was that the agreement contributed beneficially to Egypt's economy, particularly the reduction of unemployment. The deal to release Israeli prisoner Azzam Azzam was necessary to open the way for further relaxation of the regional situation, and to make further deals in trade and gas possible.
It is also essential, however, to see Egyptian moves toward Israel as a part of the Egyptian regional posture in 2004. For Egypt, the U.S. war in Iraq and its consequences in terms of the insurgency, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the continuation of the civil war in Sudan - all have destabilized the Middle East. The "swamps" of terrorism in the region have been expanding, and radical forces in Iran and elsewhere have been boosted.
An unstable Middle East is not an environment in which Egyptian national interests are served. Creating stability has been the traditional business of Egypt during the past three decades. That is why last year Egypt moved to help the Americans in Iraq by hosting a conference on Iraq at Sharm el-Sheikh, which legitimized the U.S. presence. Cairo also moved to support the peace process in Sudan through to its conclusion on Jan. 9. Ultimately, however, Egypt will continue to regard Israeli-Arab peace as the cornerstone of regional stability.
I think that this interpretation suggests that Egyptian-Israeli relations are going to continue to be a cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East, but even more so. With the Bush administration's policy, Egypt has a lot less wiggle room to keep its distance from Israel (but Israel continues to have virtually no constraints on its actions, even if they disturb Egypt). What Egypt gets from the deal on top of the economic advantages mentioned above (which I don't believe are as crucial as Said makes them out to be) is an implicit commitment from the US that regime change (soft or hard) won't be on the cards for Cairo. But really, considered from a strictly strategic point of view, this has basically changed the regional balance to leave much, much less power and maneuvering room for the Egyptians -- and no hard and fast guarantees that next time around they won't be forced to do something even more difficult. Egyptian foreign policy (and domestic) under Mubarak has been status-quo oriented -- the key quote of the article is "Creating stability has been the traditional business of Egypt during the past three decades." But what Egypt needs, really, is a pro-active foreign policy that takes a few risks for the possibility of much greater returns than they would get by waiting for events to impose situations on them. Say what you want about Sadat, but the man at least was daring enough to create new possibilities by sheer statesmanship (he also was more courageous with domestic policy -- in good and bad ways.) The situation Egypt now finds itself in -- a soi-disant regional power with actually very limited influence that has to troubleshoot or the US and Israel -- is unbecoming for a country of its potential. And you know who you have to blame for that: the man that allowed Egypt to be driven into a strategic corner because all he cared about was his political survival.
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Yet another entry..

...in President Mubarak's recent attempts to explain how little power he actually has. At a meeting with writers and intellectuals earlier this week (he has one every year before the Cairo Book Fair), the president was asked some "direct" questions about democratization and the concentration of power in the presidency. According to Masr Al-Youm newspaper, he answered that: "The power is in the hands of the Prime Minister; the President plans for things or issues instructions for their implementation." Just an administrator at the beck and call of the Prime Minister. (Thanks to Adel)
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The battle at Columbia

The NYT has a story (published yesterday) that more or less brings the deteriorating situation in Columbia's Mealac department to date. The center of the storm is Joseph Massad who has been attacked by certain right-leaning interest groups. If anything, the Times piece erred on the side of being too balanced. Massad, for his part, has been defending himself in al-Ahram Weekly among other places. His orginal response was published in November. Taken into consideration the struggle developing at Princeton and its NES department and the Tariq Ramdan saga, all indications are that 9/11 is being used as a pretext to fight destructive intellectual wars as well as military wars. While more people will die in the latter, careers and how the region will be viewed in the future remain at stake. People interested in ideas must engage as the study of the region continues to get politicized. Some will, no doubt, rightly argue studying the ME has always been highly politicized but it seems that now we are passing through a juncture where increased energy is required. The right-wing is definitely in a stronger position - they don't need to win arguments - they just have to muddle the argument simplistically to achieve their aims. Not only do analysts need to remain studious with their subjects but now with this unnecessary rubbish.
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Electronic Iran?

The excellent folks at electronicintifada.net and electroniciraq.net -- perhaps some of the first activist/news sites focusing on these regional conflicts -- are worried that they'll soon have to work on electroniciran.net too. No doubt that was inspired by Seymour Hersh's story, which gets top billing on the site. There are also links to background info and breaking news on Iran, so it might be worth keeping track of if you're interested in those things.
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WaPo on Mubarak and the presidency

The Washington Post has another strongly anti-Mubarak editorial on the forthcoming elections in which they call President Bush to task for not keeping his word on promoting democracy in Iraq. In fact, they argue, Mubarak has been one of the strongest opponents of this plan for Arab democratization:
Mr. Mubarak has done the opposite: He has emerged as the most outspoken and uncompromising opponent of Mr. Bush's call for Arab liberalization. But he has also shrewdly offered Mr. Bush an extension of the old bargain. In recent weeks, Mr. Mubarak has warmed his relations with Israel's Ariel Sharon, encouraged Palestinian militants to declare a cease-fire and supported Sunni participation in Iraq's upcoming elections. Egypt also apparently continues its clandestine cooperation on terrorism with the Central Intelligence Agency -- cooperation that reportedly involves the "rendition" of CIA detainees to Egypt so as to circumvent U.S. anti-torture laws.
The dictator's gambit appears to be working. For all his rhetoric, Mr. Bush shows no sign of ending U.S. excuses and accommodations for Egypt. While insisting that Palestinians establish a democracy before any peace settlement with Israel -- a stance that happens to advance Mr. Sharon's aim of indefinitely postponing Palestinian statehood -- Mr. Bush has given no indication that he objects to another of the fraudulent referendums with which Mr. Mubarak has ratified his rule. Hoping that Mr. Bush is serious, Egyptian opposition movements have formed a coalition to call for fundamental reforms: the lifting of emergency laws that restrict political activity, a multi-candidate election for president and constitutional changes to limit the next president's power. Three brave dissidents have announced their own candidacies for president. Last month an unprecedented anti-Mubarak demonstration took place in Cairo. Protesters silently held up signs saying "Enough." Does Mr. Bush not agree?
The WaPo has been following this line for a while -- as far as I can remember, for about two years, around the time when they profiled Gamal Mubarak and were one of the rare paper that didn't describe him as "reformist" and "internet-savvy" and took him to task for not being serious about political reform. I think that stance has partly come out of some intense lobbying a few years back by a few well-connected Egyptian liberals, the PR fiasco that was the Saad Eddin Ibrahim case, and the influence of the neo-con/Friedmanesque theory of Arab democratization. But while they do go after Bush for not carrying out the democratization, it's a bit strange that they blame Egypt for collaborating with the CIA's rendition and torture project. Furthermore, I doubt that -- at least for the people who demonstrated with "Enough" -- that they are waiting for support for Bush, since most of them are anti-American leftists. I was speaking to Saad Eddin Ibrahim a couple of days ago about his candidacy and his views on Washington's take on the Egyptian situation, and he suggested that the Bush administration hadn't quite made up its mind about it. But the next couple of months should see some movement, including, he speculated, either support of Mubarak, support for his son Gamal, or even real reform. I think there's also a chance tomorrow night's inauguration speech might be used to relaunch the Greater Middle East Initiative. In related news:
  • Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif endorses Gamal Mubarak, arguing that poor Gamal faces an unfair obstacle to the presidency because of who his Daddy is.
  • Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Muhammad Akef predicts Gamal will be the next president, but not in this election -- and that he will come in through constitutional means, not be imposed arbitrarily.
  • Activists campaigning against Mubarak's re-election yesterday were prevented from holding a press conference. Surrounded by riot police, they stayed outside the planned venue, a theater, and chanted "We are not slaves, we will not be inherited."
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