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November 01, 2005

Elections in Egypt: Time to Back Up Our Rhetoric with Action
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Lorelei Kelly has asked me to guest blog this week. For more about me, click here. Over the course of the next few days, I will be discussing the upcoming Egyptian parliamentary elections and, more generally, the sorry state of democracy in the Arab world . The question I will be asking throughout is how the US, through various mechanisms, can more effectively promote democratic reform in what is the most undemocratic region in the world. I'm looking forward to reading your comments.

Egypt's parliamentary elections are scheduled take place over the course of three weeks with November 9 as the first day of polling (mark your calendars). Egypt, of course, is one of our closest allies in the region and we give the the regime there nearly $2 billion in annual economic and military aid. Despite this, the elections have received barely any coverage in the American media.   

These elections provide an important test case for the Bush administration’s "forward strategy for freedom." One can only hope that the results turn out better than September’s presidential polls when strongman Hosni Mubarak was reelected with a ludicrous 88.5% of the vote. The Mubarak regime – which is a quarter-century old – has proven adept at fraud, intimidation, stuffing, and bribing its way to victory.

Is the Bush administration on its game or is dropping the ball on Egypt ? Let us backtrack a bit. In his inaugural speech earlier this year, President Bush used unprecedented language in describing America’s democratic imperative: “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.” I know that with many Democrats, a built-in “neo-con” alert goes up whenever they hear this kind of language. I, on the other hand, was very much impressed. In the name of stability, we had supported Arab dictatorship for decades. Now, finally, there were signs that a change in policy was in the making. But it was not be. When less than two months ago, President Bush called Mubarak to congratulate him on his (rather lopsided) victory, the high-minded rhetoric of his inaugural address seemed particularly hollow.

The gap between words and deeds, rhetoric and policy has never been wider and our credibility continues to suffer as a result. This month’s elections in Egypt present US policymakers with an excellent opportunity to regain the initiative on democracy promotion. The response (or lack thereof) to the upcoming elections - and the voter intimidation and detention of opposition activists which will surely take place - will tell us a great deal about the current thinking in the Bush administration. I can’t say, however, that I’m particularly optimistic. Bush is embroiled in domestic controversies and has lost much of the political capital he might have still had just a few months ago.

Earlier this year, many commentators, on both the Right and the Left, were speaking of an “Arab spring,” “an autumn for autocrats,” and a “springtime for democracy,” and many other flowery, seasonal formulations. Since then, the euphoria has largely died down. Mubarak, with his September victory, has legitimized his illegitimacy for the next six years. Jordan's King Abdullah has become increasingly authoritarian in dealing with an emboldened opposition and an increasingly restless civil society.  Tunisia and Algeria are dragging their feet as usual. Yet, if the Bush administration has the political will and starts to put real, sustained pressure on these recalcitrant regimes, then this negative trend can be reversed. In other words, we've got the rhetoric down. Now it’s time to back it up.


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I agree with you Shadi, that the talk has been good, eventough missing in some specific cases, the arrests of the muslim brotherhood being a case in point. You can´t speak for democracy if youré not going to include every political entity which agrees to the democratic principles . I will follow your continuing blogging this with enticipation !


Actually the Egyptian legistlative elections begin on the 9th (not the 8th). Mark your calender!

- Hos

I agree there's a lot of rhetoric. But I'm confused. What were your suggestions on what to do, exactly?

There hasn't been a log of reporting because nothing has happened ... the opposition is a joke and their coalition landed with a thud. I'm not very optimistic.

There hasn't been a log of reporting because nothing has happened ... the opposition is a joke and their coalition landed with a thud. I'm not very optimistic.

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