The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ibrahim on monitors, Abdo on Islamists

A few days ago Saad Eddin Ibrahim had a new op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he says the time is ripe for international monitors.

Many of the opposition parties that once went along with the Mubarak regime in opposing international election monitoring are now loudly insisting on it for the forthcoming November parliamentary elections. This is a major development in the evolution of Egyptian political culture, long replete with xenophobia and conspiracy theories about the outside world. Even the most anti-American leftists are demanding to know where President Bush and the United States stand vis-à-vis this sham presidential election. Will the West be similarly oblivious to the expected travesties in the parliamentary elections?

. . .

One issue Mubarak is still adamant about, and hence made no campaign promises on, is his refusal to legalize the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamic movement. Believed to be the strongest opposition bloc, the Brotherhood has long enjoyed a de facto popular legitimacy. During the presidential campaign, nearly all the opposition parties courted it by pledging to work for legalization of the party. Increasingly, it looks as if all of Egypt's political class except Mubarak's party has come around to this position. Thus, instead of Mubarak's isolating the Muslim Brotherhood, it has managed to isolate him. To consolidate its moral gains and prepare for upcoming parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood has joined the chorus calling for international election monitoring in November.

This is a time of tremendous ferment in Egypt. It demands that the United States and the rest of the world stay vigilant and bear witness to Egyptian popular demands. If it is too much to expect outright support for the fledgling dissident movement, there should at least be an effort to hold Mubarak accountable for the promises he made.

It still looks as though the regime is doing everything it can to avoid having international monitors. And right now it looks like it will get its way. There were apparently no strong pressure on having monitors before the presidential election (despite Condi Rice's Cairo speech) and there is little so far, although Karen Hughes probably raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit last week and might raise it again in her upcoming trip. But the election is a month and a half away and there has not been, to my knowledge, a serious offer by an international election monitoring agency (say, Jimmy Carter's people or the OSCE or the UN). Perhaps things don't work that way; but in any case the Egyptians will fight it even if it comes. In a recent interview in Al Gomhouriya, presidential advisor Osama Al Baz once again stressed that monitors are out of the question. One interesting thing in Ibrahim's op-ed, though, is that it's true that public opinion towards international monitoring is changing. The regime's absurd claim that it would infringe on national sovereignty is not being swallowed. When I was following Ayman Nour on the campaign trail a few weeks ago, he told me that one of the most surprising thing was that a lot of his supporters across the country were in favor of monitors--just ordinary people who I guess realize that it's good enough for dozens of countries across the world, it's probably good enough for Egypt.

Anyway, Ibrahim is actually holding a meeting at this very moment at the Ibn Kahldiun Center to draw up support for 6,000 election observers to take part in the parliamentary elections. Good luck to him.

Elsewhere (and earlier) in the Washington Post (surely by now the main forum in the American mainstream media for discussions of Egypt), Geneive Adbo had a bizarre column on Islamists:

But the far more significant outcome of the presidential election is that over the last year, as Egyptians anxiously anticipated election day, a strong and significant opposition movement against Mubarak went public. And who is the backbone of this opposition movement? The Islamists. For the first time since the 1970s, thousands of Egyptians of all political and religious persuasions joined forces in street protests, demanding political reform and an end to the regime. While a fractured opposition had operated behind the scenes for years, this election inspired secularists, leftists and, most of all, Islamists to take the unprecedented step of coordinating their various campaigns against Mubarak's expected victory.

Er... no. It's not Islamists that were behind the rise of the Kifaya movement, but the leftists. This is probably something that disturbs some Americans who don't like the anti-globalization, anti-US ideology that is partly what fuels Kifaya. But the Islamists--the Muslim Brotherhood at least--officially supported Mubarak when its Supreme Guide endorsed him back in March. That decision has not been annulled despite later statements by the Guide that Brothers could vote for who they wanted. Moreover, Abdo suggests that the Wasat party and the Brotherhood are one and the same, although these is clearly a break in ideology between the two, even if it was started in part by former Brothers.

I suppose Abdo is still as attached to the alarmist thesis of her late 1990s book, but one wonders if she's actually been in Egypt lately.

P.S. Meant to post this days ago, but between a nasty cold and being busy with work, I didn't get a chance to. Same goes for a few others posts lately.