Tuesday, December 13, 2005


By William Fisher

Washington’s characterization of Egypt’s recent parliamentary election as another important step on the road to democracy is trumped only by President Hosni Mubarak’s cynical demand for a review of the election’s widespread violence and voter disenfranchisement.

Like the aging ruler had no knowledge of why at least ten people were killed and scores more injured during the monthlong election or why police cordoned off many polling stations to prevent people from voting.

Just to remind you, the violence flared after Egypt's banned Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, won 88 seats compared to the 15 it held in the outgoing 454-member parliament. This happened despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is banned from participating in elections, and its candidates are obliged to run as ‘independents’.

Egyptian authorities say the security measures were taken to enable Egyptians to vote in an orderly manner. Right! The police brutality had nothing to do with trying to prevent the Brotherhood from making even larger gains.

“The elections, with their negative and positive aspects, will be a matter of intensive study by all parties to derive lessons to develop future party and democratic actions,'' Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awwad, quoted the president as telling the lawmakers.

“Negative aspects should be answered strongly so that they will not be repeated.''

Study by whom? Mubarak’s National Democratic Party? The state-controlled media? Not likely. The United States? The United Nations? When pigs fly!

As always, the de-construction of this election will fall to local and international NGOs who monitor bad governance and abuses of human rights. And, if past is prologue, their reports will attract little press attention anywhere.

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for a quarter of a century, took his first ‘significant’ step toward democracy by introducing an amendment to the country’s constitution. That measure purported to allow multiple candidates to run against him for the presidency for the first time.

Then came the fine print. The amendment placed severe restrictions on, for example, political parties that would be recognized as ‘legal’ by the government.

That eliminated a lot of the opposition.

Then the government proceeded with what almost everyone agrees were trumped-up charges against Ayman Nour, head of a leading opposition party. Mr. Nour is now on trial for forging signatures on his party’s registration documents, even though his principal accuser has recanted this claim, which he now says was obtained under police duress.

President Bush and his fans may acknowledge that the amendment and the presidential and parliamentary elections were flawed, but that the mere fact that they took place at all represents progress on the road to democratic rule.

They will also imply that none of this good news would have happened without George W. Bush’s call for the democratization of the greater Middle East.

We don’t really know how much impact the Bush doctrine had on the electoral process in Egypt or anywhere else.

What we do know is that, given the enormous largesse the U.S. has doled out to Egypt over the past quarter-century – currently some $2 billion a year – America had more than enough leverage to do much more diplomatically to ensure that Egypt’s first baby steps toward representative government were something better than the political theater of the absurd.

But the Bush Administration values Egypt far more as an ally in its Global War on Terror than as a partner in its Global War for Democracy.

And that excuses even the absurd.