The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Mubarak introduces multiple candidate elections

I am eating my words. This morning, in a speech broadcast on TV, President Hosni Mubarak asked the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, to change article 76 of the constitution to allow for multiple candidate elections. If you've been reading this site for a while, you'll know that I never thought it would happen, especially as Mubarak has asked that this be done before the September presidential elections. Here's the AP (updated AP, updated AFP) and BBC stories:

CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a review and amendment of the country's presidential election law, paving the way for multi-candidate polls in September.
"This morning I have asked the parliament and the Shura Council to amend Article 76 of the constitution, which deals with the election of the president to discuss it and suggest the appropriate amendment to be in line with this stage of our nation's history," Mubarak said in a speech broadcast live on Egyptian television.
He said the amendment would be put to a general public referendum before the presidential polls, scheduled for September.
The surprise announcement follows increasing opposition calls for political reforms, including multi-candidate presidential elections.
Currently, Egypt holds presidential referendums in which people vote "yes" or "no" for a single candidate who has been approved by parliament. The legislature has been dominated by Mubarak's ruling party since political parties were restored in the 1970s.

I will be working on the details of this today, but here is my instant analysis:

  • This is an extremely important step provided the changes do not excessively limit who can be a candidate.
  • There was absolutely no forewarning except an item in Al Ahram last night that Mubarak would be giving a major speech in the morning.
  • If US pressure is involved, this could be linked to a visit earlier this week by the Assistant Trade Representative for Europe and the Mediterranean. Although it was the highest level trade meeting since 2002, the Egyptians were very disappointed again that FTA negotiations seem still far off.
  • There was also President Bush's reiteration on Monday of his demand that Egypt "lead the way for reform." And the Washington Post's campaign against Mubarak.
  • This may explain why the Kefaya movement has been allow to grow in the past few weeks, with at least two newspapers more or less endorsing it.
  • This could mean Ayman Nour will soon be released. Also, the six candidates who presented themselves in the past few months could now be joined by others, more serious political operatives.
  • In the end, though, this does not alter my prediction that Mubarak will be re-elected by a very comfortable margin. In fact, this might strengthen him. They guy has a history of one step forward, two steps back.

  • Update:

    Here is the story from the official MENA agency:

    09:22:00 (GMT) 26-02-05

    MENA 37

    Egypt-Mubarak-Constitution Mubarak wants article 76 of constitution amended
    SHIBIN EL-KOM, Egypt, Feb 26 (MENA) - President Hosni Mubarak said he
    submitted a request this morning to the People's Assembly and Shura
    Council to have article 76 of the Egyptian constitution, pertaining to the
    way a president of the republic is selected, amended.
    Mubarak, during a speech he delivered Saturday at a popular rally at the University of Menoufiya Conference Centre, said the parliament will
    start debating it and offer the proper amendment in line with the requirements of this stage of our nation's history .
    He said this historic amendment in Egypt's constitutional march
    offers for the first time a chance for whoever is able and wishes to serve
    the nation to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining the country's
    The president said whoever wants to run for presidency must come within
    a parliamentary and popular framework for direct presidential elections.

    Just a few more thoughts: Menoufiya is where Mubarak was born and probably was of the places where he is most genuinely popular. The crowds being shown on TV looked unusually jubilant; that might be why. I also wonder what is meant by "whoever wants to run for presidency must come within a parliamentary and popular framework."

    Update II:

    Here is the Reuters story. It brings this news quote on Mubarak's justification for the amendment:

    "to give the opportunity to political parties to enter the presidential elections and provide guarantees that allow more than one candidate to be put forward to the presidency for people to choose among them freely."

    Combined with the above-mentioned "parliamentary framework" this could mean candidates will either have to be MPs or party members (or leaders.)