The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Connecting the dots

Let's connect some dots, specificially yesterday's demonstration, Egypt's recent and rather bold gestures towards Israel, and the Ukrainian presidential elections. The mass' ability to nullify fraudulent elections in Ukraine have surely been noted by Arab leaders and opposition figures. As Egyptian analyst Wahid Abd al-Magid noted on the op-ed pages of Al Hayat on December 5: "It only took a few thousand protesters to impose democratic reforms in the age of the American neo-conservatives... a big internal crisis has put Arab regimes in a historical dilemna, especially in light of the increasing possibility of a foreign role-- namely America-- in supporting internal demonstrations." (He's exagerrating a bit with the "few thousand" number. Later in his article Abd al-Magid claims that the initial demonstrations in Kiev consisted of 20,000 to 30,000 people. I haven't been able to find any numbers on the first demonstrations.) The events in Ukraine were the result of a partnership between internal and external pressure. Were it not for the concerned eyes of the EU and the United States it is likely that the Ukrainian government would have cracked down at the first signs of protests. And were it not for the public display of public will, the millions that eventually turned out to protest in over 30 Ukrainian cities, US and EU concerns would have been irrelevant. (I have found the best on Ukraine)

This has been one of the cornerstones of the reform debate in the Arab world as well: what is the role for the United States, or any outsiders for that matter, in pressing for political reform inside Egypt and other Arab countries? Ukraine now provides a formula. If Egypt's opposition hopes to repeat the Ukrainian model here, it will need to pave the way for protests against the President himself. Afterall, that's what will be demanded of the people on election day 2005 if they are going to protest against the reelection of Mubarak in fraudulent elections. Yesterday's demonstration showed that it can be done.

Now to Israel-Egyptian relations. On December 5 Egypt released the convicted Israeli spy Azzam Azzam, Egypt is scheduled to sign a trade deal with Israel tomorrow, and rumors have been going around that Egypt will return its ambassador to Tel Aviv. In addition, Israeli Embassy spokesperson Israel Tikochinski appeared on Egyptian television for the first time last week. Egypt's Mubarak is coming up for reelection in Fall 2005. With Mubarak aging, rumors swirling about his son Gamal's ambitions, and expectations for the US to back its democratization rhetoric with its closest Arab ally, the 2005 Egyptian presidential elections promise to be a closely watched affair. Bush publicly called on Egypt to lead the way towards democratization in Fall 2003. It is hard for me to imagine the regime here getting away with the same sort of antics that occurred in the 1995 and the 2000 elections. The opposition is more emboldened than it has ever been, and external pressure is increasing. However, if Mubarak suddenly proves himself willing to make bold moves on the Israel front then that could be the one thing that would convince the Bush administration and "the international peace process industry" to turn a blind eye to another sham election in Egypt, even if the opposition plays the Ukraine gambit and manages to mobilize thousands of protesters.