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Egypt: Diminishing Democracy or Fair Elections?

November 2, 2010
President George W. Bush and Egyptian Presiden...

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Photo: Eric Draper, Executive Office of the President of the United States

Even though the republic of Egypt is supposedly governed by a multi-party semi-presidential system, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has ruled with near dictatorial powers since 1981.

Mubarak did win the 2005 presidential elections, but not necessarily without a little help from his friends. Election observers have accused the government of fraud and vote-rigging, and reported police brutality and violence by pro-Mubarak supporters against the opposition.

Will the upcoming parliamentary elections in November and the presidential elections next year be any freer and fairer, or will democracy continue to diminish in 2011?

Even though Mubarak belongs to the National Democratic Party, he seems to have a rather loose grasp on the meaning of the word «democratic».

His grasp on power, on the other hand, is anything but loose. While the Egyptian Constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of expression, Mubarak’s government uses a 30-year “state of emergency” to silence independent journalists, political activists and even opposition candidates. Of course, all this is rather embarrassing for the leader of a so-called democratic party, and Mubarak would no doubt prefer the world to turn a blind eye to the more  un-democratic aspects of his rule. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Egyptian government has refused international election monitors.

Recommitting to the cause of human rights

Egypt’s appalling human rights record is a problem not only for the country’s government and its oppressed people, but also – by association – for the United States. While possessing one of the most developed economies in the middle east, Egypt is also a top recipient of US Aid, millions of dollars of which goes to the military. Therefore, the US is often blamed for offering uncritical support to a government implicated in serious violations of human rights—including torture, police brutality and arbitrary detention.

American President Barack Obama recently held a speech at the UN recommitting his administration to the cause of human rights. According to an editorial in the Washington Post, he explicitly stated that

“it’s time for every member state to open its elections to international monitors.”

In the American Congress, a resolution urging Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access” is gaining bipartisan support.

Of mouth and money

While Mr. Obama reportedly called for «credible and transparent elections in Egypt» at his last meeting with Mr. Mubarak, there have been no signs that his administration is willing to put its money where its mouth is. There has been no indications that Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequences for the $1.5 billion his country receives annually in American aid, and the White House hasn’t even offered support for the Senate resolution.

It is time for Mr. Obama to put some pressure on the Egyptian government. As he hasn’t done so already, it is time for you and me to put some pressure on him. As Neil Hicks of Human Rights First wrote in a letter to the editor in the Washington post:

«[The US government]should make the case forcefully to Egyptian leaders, in public and private, that such practices harm Egypt’s long-term interests in development, social peace and prosperity for its people. «

Send a message to President Obama asking him to urge President Mubarak to accept international election monitors here!

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