Egypt Takes Steps Towards Democracy
Egypt passed a vote in parliament today to allow for multicandidate presidential elections. This is on the eve of an important trip of the Prime Minister to the US:
President Hosni Mubarak took the bold, and at the same time, difficult-to- understand decision to ask the People’s Assembly to take the necessary steps to amend Article 76 of the constitution so as to allow for secret, multi-candidate presidential elections.
This week the Egyptian parliament approved a constitutional amendment that opens presidential elections to multiple candidates for the first time, but critics said it set such stringent conditions for running that this year’s vote would basically remain a one-man referendum starring President Hosni Mubarak.
The vote comes at a time of unusual political agitation in Egypt, with small but vocal street demonstrations demanding greater democracy and an end to MrMubarak’s 24-year rule.
The government put a big effort into showcasing the amendment. Much of the debate was broadcast live, and the Speaker of the People’s Assembly, Fathi Sorour, held a rare news conference afterwards to praise the change.
The country’s tiny opposition groups lambasted the measure, saying it fell far short of the public expectations for real democracy in Egypt, making it impossible for independent candidates to run and eventually for approved parties as well.
Aljazeera has reported that Egyptian security authorities arrested six members of its crew preparing to cover the general assembly of Cairo’s Judges Club.
The arrests took place on Friday. The assembly is expected to announce its final position on the issue of judges’ supervision of the forthcoming elections.
In a rare burst of openness before a U.S. visit, Egypt’s prime minister said Thursday he will try to convince President Bush that the world’s largest Arab nation is making big strides toward democracy – even as he acknowledged the upcoming presidential vote won’t be a true election.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief also took a hard line against religious groups, saying the Muslim Brotherhood – the country’s largest and most-organized opposition – “will never be a (political) party.”
He said the government has not decided whether to allow international monitors during the September election – a plan the Bush administration is expected to push.