Saturday, May 28, 2005

Half-Measure in Egypt

Voters in Egypt overwhelming voted for the constitutional change that will allow for the first oppositional elections in Egypt. First Lady Laura Bush called the change "a bold first step." While this electoral change is an improvement over the previous yes or no votes that took place, it is not much an improvement. It is already apparent that there is not going to be much of an opposition to run against Hosni Mubarak. Opposition candidates have to receive support from 200 members of Mubarak's party. Then assuming that opposition candidates can get that required support, do not expect a vigorous campaign from them. Ayman Nour, who is currently the lone opposition candidate, had the following inspiring campaign rally on Tuesday:
...A clutch of 20 Nour supporters bought tickets to the movie "Kingdom of Heaven" in order to have an excuse to loiter in front of a downtown cinema and shout anti-Mubarak slogans.

The ruse to overcome police restrictions on public meetings didn't work for long. Within a half-hour, a phalanx of thick-forearmed plainclothes security agents backed by dozens of club-carrying riot police marched down narrow Abdel-Hamid Said Street, shoved the protesters into the lobby of the Odeon Theater and scattered reporters and passersby down the block.

Five of the plainclothes men dragged Ihab Khouly, a senior member of Nour's Tomorrow Party, to jail for a brief stay. Nour's wife, Gamila Ismael, was manhandled, though she was soon permitted to return to nearby party headquarters.

Not exactly the bold first step Laura Bush was talking about. President Bush said during his second Inauguration speech, "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. " It's time for Bush to live up to those words and get Egypt to take that bold first step towards democracy. The U.S. currently gives billions in aid to Egypt each year and nothing would get their attention quicker than a threat to get rid of or significantly reduce their aid if they do not take significant steps towards democratization. Democracy is certainly a process, but without a vigorous opposition, a country cannot have democratic elections. I do not think anyone would call America's presidental elections democratic if John Kerry had to get the Republicans approval to run and whenever he held a political rally, it would get broken up by the police. Egypt may be an important ally on the war on terror, but that is not sufficient reason to continue to tolerate their autocratic form of government.