Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Coming Egyptian Revolution

The Beirut newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour is a member of Project Syndicate, an international association of newspapers aiming to bring distinguished voices from across the world to local audiences everywhere” (with the possible exception of the USA—Nur). The paper has picked up this opinion piece by Egyptian MP Mona Makra-Ebeid on the impact of the United States on political reform in Egypt.

Mrs. Makra-Ebeid is a colleague of Egyptian politician Ayman Nour, who was recently arrested on charges of forging documents filed with the Egyptian Political Parties Commission to officially register his politicay party, Hizb al-Ghad.

Update 04/22:. Cairo Magazine reports an uproar within Hizb al-Ghad concerning foreign money. To tell the truth after sniffing the air, both Project Syndicate and the party seem to be liberal (economic sense) undertakings and suggest inspiration from The Economist.
"Al Ghad is founded on the margin of the liberal attitude in Egypt. It has no history or real liberal figures. Rather, it gathers underneath a big tent people from different attitudes. They unite around Ayman Nour's personality, not a central idea," said Dia Rashwan, a researcher at Al Ahram Center For Strategic Studies. He expects that there will be additional resignations in the future.
Before or after reading the article, be sure to visit Baheyya (on the left sidebar) and read her scathing article on the Egyptian régime and its attempts to maintain supremacy and control in Egyptian political life.

The article, printed in French, seems to have been originally in English but I am unable to find the source on Project Syndicate’s homepage, so I offer my own translation:

Will The Coming Revolution Be Egyptian?

The American President’s Greater Middle East Initiative was welcomed with little enthusiasm. Arab governments do not appreciate it when President Bush acted without consulting them. For this reason, Egypt supported an alternative proposal, The Alexandria Declaration, during the Arab Summit in May last year. President Mubarek has recently announced that the opposition would be permitted to run candidates against him in the upcoming presidential race. But we ask ourselves, is this as merely a cosmetic political maneuver or genuine reform?

It is clear that the recent elections in Iraq and in Palestine, as well as street demonstrations protesting Syrian influence in Lebanon, have regenerated the debate on political reform in Egypt. Some members of the opposition believe that the country must implement reforms on its own before change is imposed from the outside.

A certain newspaper editor has gone even further in pointing out that political and constitutional reforms are being held out as to the citizenry as if they were some kind of reward and not a right. According to this editor, Arab democracy is now a major priority of the United States and American presidents will ignore no longer ignore the abuses of friendly Arab régimes as they have done in the past.

In the Arab world, authoritarian governments have been depriving the population of political, social and intellectual freedoms for decades. For young citizens, especially the Islamists, ordinary means of political expression have been closed off to them; they are increasingly turning towards extremist clandestine movements. Poverty, favoritism and official corruption are reinforcing public resentment.

Against this backdrop, the reformist movement in Egypt is gaining momentum. We nostalgically recall our first experiences with liberation (from 1920 to the 1952 Revolution) which were a model for other Arab nations. During this period, the dynamism of political life, the press and our culture were supported by ideals of secular nationalism and religious harmony. Egypt was a multiparty parliamentary democracy with an independent judiciary and one of the world’s first women’s liberation movements.

Today, the accomplishments and the hopes of this period serve to unite reform-minded Egyptians. They have inspired the formation of a new political party, the Hizb al-Ghad (Party of Tomorrow), founded by a young parliamentarian, which rejects the argument that democracy has encouraged extremism. The party believes that lack of reform is our country’s greatest danger.

Hizb al-Ghad has recently prepared a 48-page Draft Constitution which aims to reinvigorate Egyptian political life. Its preamble, which begins with the words, We, the Egyptian people is an unbridled attack on the current régime and calls for the end to fear and despotism.

The document proposes to put an end to the ongoing state of emergency imposed in the aftermath of the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 which has become an emergency without end. It has led to the restriction, if not outright suspension, of individual and political freedoms. The Draft Constitution proposes to limit the extraordinary powers granted the president by the Constitution of 1971 and to introduce direct presidential elections with competing candidates. It will make Egypt a parliamentary republic.

The dominant National Democratic Party, NDP, does not see eye-to-eye with this opinion and maintains that political reform is possible without constitutional reform. The NDP seems convinced that democratization begins with a change in the political climate and the spread of democratic values. But these transformations must be preceded by concrete judicial and constitutional reforms like those proposed by Hizb al-Ghad.

Until now, NPD has never bothered with an attempt to garner popular support by offering an agenda of reforms designed to increase citizen participation. This is why statements by Mubarak in favor of multiparty participation in the presidential elections have made no impression whatsoever on the Egyptian electorate. In fact, the government prefers empty initiatives focusing on the economy.

The contrast in these opposing views must not rule out room for consensus. Wide-ranging reforms are necessary and have been delayed for too long. Moreover, the liberal voices being heard throughout Egypt are not in response to the democratizing initiatives of the United States. They represent a national protest against foot-dragging and will be recorded as an important chapter in our history.


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