American pressure on Egypt’s Mubarak

Thanks in part to the U.S., Egypt now has the appearance of democracy.

Egypt has taken a baby step toward democracy, said the London Guardian in an editorial. For the first time in 24 years, Hosni Mubarak was not the only name on the presidential ballot when Egyptians went to the polls last week. It was still a foregone conclusion that the longtime Egyptian dictator would be re-elected. But this time he had to go through the motions of waging a campaign against eight other candidates. Even such a 'œpartial, caricatured' exercise of democracy is a meaningful concession in authoritarian Egypt. And it was certainly not Mubarak's idea. 'œIt has to be said that this would not have happened without U.S. pressure on its closest Arab ally.' George W. Bush's vision of 'œa wave of democratic reform rippling' across the Arab world may still be naive, but it is not entirely impossible.

The election was nothing but a public relations stunt, said Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star. The U.S., which props up its 'œclient state' with nearly $2 billion in annual aid, has the leverage to demand real reform and a real election. It declined to do so. It allowed Mubarak, the 'œpharaoh in power since 1981,' to pass election laws that effectively rigged the vote in his favor. Voter registration, for example, was closed before Mubarak announced that he would allow rival candidates. That meant the millions of Egyptians who'd never bothered to vote in the staged, single-candidate elections of the past—but who might cast a ballot if it actually meant something—were barred from the polls. And the country's strongest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was banned from fielding a candidate. No wonder more than 70 percent of Egyptians stayed home. The U.S. cannot claim Mubarak's re-election as a success in its quest to spread democracy.

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