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2005 Review: Egypt\’s \’democracy pageant\’ ends in clouds of tear gas
The clouds of tear gas blurring the vision of would- be voters on the final day of voting in Egypt\’s parliamentary elections also obscured the progress towards concrete reform at the end of a tumultuous year in Egyptian politics. Though elections provided a focal point for opposition groups to agitate for change, the most visible outcome of the polls - both presidential and parliament
Monday, December 26,2005 00:00
by DPA, Deutsche Presse-Agentur

The clouds of tear gas blurring the vision of would- be voters on the final day of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections also obscured the progress towards concrete reform at the end of a tumultuous year in Egyptian politics.

Though elections provided a focal point for opposition groups to agitate for change, the most visible outcome of the polls - both presidential and parliamentary - was the continued stifling of opposition voices and the re-election of the same familiar faces.

Demonstrators were badly beaten on two occasions during the spring and summer, and thousands of members of the banned but tolerated Moslem Brotherhood were arrested during a wave of protests early in the year.

The May referendum on a constitutional amendment paved the way for Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections in September that saw President Hosny Mubarak’s 24 years in office extended by another six.

His main contender, Ayman Nour, who took 7.5 per cent of the vote, was in jail in late December awaiting a verdict on charges of forging documents to found his political party.

Month-long parliamentary elections, dubbed by an official at the mid-way point as ’a pageant of democracy’, deteriorated into the most violent polls in Egyptian history, and returned the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) with an overwhelming majority. The NDP took 300 of the 454 seats in the People’s Assembly.

Thirteen people died in election violence, the official al-Ahram Weekly newspaper reckoned, and thousands were prevented from voting under threat of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Voter apathy and obstacles to casting ballots, including incomplete voter lists, led some 75 per cent of those eligible to vote to stay away from the polls.

Despite the election violence, Egypt seems to be on the precipice of gradual change, according to several political analysts.

Of the newly-elected assembly, Abdel Moneim Said, head of the al- Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and advisor to the NDP, noted: ’It’s not a parliament for change, but a parliament to prepare for change.’

Reducing the power of the president in favour of parliament is one of the key tasks the assembly is expected to address over its five- year term.

But the public’s frustration with the government is running high, said George Ishaq, coordinator of the Egyptian Movement for Change, popularly known as Kefaya (Enough).

’The government wasn’t serious (about reform),’ said Ishaq. ’With the elections, it was only interested in putting on a show and when it was threatened it intervened.’

Kefaya, which broke a ban on public protests on domestic issues in December 2004, says it intends to continue holding regular rallies around the country to explain how its calls for change relate to daily life.

’How are any of the (campaign) promises Mubarak made - for reform, job creation, new cities - going to be done when the national debt is (so large)?’ Ishaq wondered.

Meanwhile, the Moslem Brotherhood is treading softly in the aftermath of its measured electoral victory, winning 88 seats in parliament over its previous record of 36.

The group was the main target of poll station closures and saw several leading members arrested in spring.

’There are laws that need to be changed and things in the constitution that require reform, however that must occur in a manner that will not shake state institutions or expose them to partial collapse,’ Mohammed Habib, deputy head of the Brotherhood said.

Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef, in a speech to the press introducing the party’s parliament bloc, called for ’reconciliation’ among Egyptians and affirmed that the opposition MPs from the Brotherhood would be ’well-guided’.

’What we are talking about is not opposing for the sake of opposing,’ Habib explained.

Yet the group is united with other opposition parties in making the cancellation of emergency laws that curtail political activity their priority. It also wants a committee that licenses parties to be abolished.

’The law (governing parties) is shameful and unconstitutional and takes the country backwards, not ahead’ said Habib. ’We want, along with other political forces, for political parties to be established based on popular will,’ he added.

As the year came to an end, a minor victory in a larger battle led by a group of judges seemed to bode well for reform in the New Year. <!--page-->

In mid-December, a group of judges calling for full independence of the judiciary swept elections for the boards of their professional association, in spite of widespread predictions they would be beaten by a pro-government group.

Judges stepped up their calls for reform in 2005, saying that they did not want to rubber stamp unfair polls, but later found themselves on the frontline in the mayhem which marked the end of the general elections.

In contrast to previous elections, ’judges supervising the polls tried to engage the public to tell them what was happening,’ said Nasser Amin, head of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession.

Though the judiciary is a long way off being truly independent, working towards that goal, in Amin’s view, will have an enormous impact.

’The mere independence of the judiciary entails the protection of all freedoms - those of political forces, civil society and so on,’ he said.


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