Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Egyptian Dictatorship Ascendant

I don't blog much about Egypt, but Marc Lynch makes a compelling case that it is about to transform from authoritarian fake democracy to outright dictatorship. Here are the constitutional changes in question:
"The changes are blatantly, almost absurdly, authoritarian and antidemocratic. Judicial oversight of elections will be eliminated; even NDP strategist Ali al-Din Hilal admits that this makes cheating much easier (which of course is the point). Contested Presidential elections will be virtually impossible, since candidates must come from a licensed party with so much representation in all elected bodies that in practice only the NDP will ever get over the bar. Parties based on religion would be explicitly banned, making it impossible for the Muslim Brotherhood to form a political party and participate openly in the political process. But it isn't just the MB: the regime, under NDP control, will retain an iron grip on the licensing of political parties, and judging by past practice will use this control to exclude not only the Muslim Brotherhood but any other promising political party. 'Counter-terrorism' provisions will render a whole range of highly controversial, intrusive security practices Constitutional, making the de facto security state into a de jure security state."

What are the chances these moves will be successfully opposed?
"The best and only real option: mobilize sustained, critical international media attention to stigmatize and embarrass the Egyptian regime. Al-Jazeera has been giving full voice to the Egyptian opposition, but the Saudi press is mostly ignoring it, probably because the Saudis don't really like democratic reforms and they are currently comfortably aligned with Cairo and Washington against Iran. Al-Arabiya currently does not have a single front page story about the Egyptian crisis (though this may change over the course of the day, of course), while between al-Hayat and al-Sharq al-Awsat there is exactly one story, a scathing opinion piece by Fahmy Howeydi, who can write whatever he wants to write because he's Fahmy Howeydi... except in Egypt, where al-Ahram refused to run this highly critical piece in his usual weekly column spot. Some Egyptian papers, like al-Masry al-Youm, are doing a good job, but it's often been noted that they have this margin of freedom precisely because of their relatively limited influence and reach."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, which at least created a space for the opposition to work within a couple of years ago, is letting Mubarak have free reign. The point of these changes is to smooth the transition to rule by Mubarak's son Gamal, and I suspect the thinking in Washington is that they want a friend running Egypt for the foreseeable future.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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