10.31.2005

Middle East Dictators' System

After the laughable direction of the futile play of the Egyptian presidential elections, Mr. Mubarak is doing his best to maintain the current system in the Middle East, which I believe that is based on the authoritarianism and relies on the interdependence of the Middle East regimes to maintain stability. This stability in their Middle East system means the regimes' security and lastingness.

That is a very important point must be considered in the Middle East policy-making process.

The despot makes his foreign policy on the considerations of his interior policy. He knows the necessity of the interior and foreign policies to be consistent because they belong to and represent the same decision-making system and intend to enable it as the intrinsic dynamics of the regime in power. And knows the indispensability of the compatible foreign context for his rule's integrity.

The motives of Mubarak's Middle East recent initiative are understandable, but the nature of his initiative indicates that either he did not understand the significant changes in the Middle East and in the international input of the Middle East, or he does not want to understand them. But the most obvious that he is seriously anxious about his rule.

I will take occasion to post an article of a prominent Egyptian scholar and activist, who has long strived, and still, against tyranny and for democracy in Egypt and Middle East. Here is an article of the director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim:

Mubarak’s War on Egyptian Liberals

Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim

For nearly a quarter century, President Hosny Mubarak has ruled the pivotal country of Egypt as a modern day pharaoh. In ancient times the pharaoh was propagated by the priesthood as a God-King with absolute power over the lives of his subjects and their sole means of livelihood, the river Nile. The pharaoh was not accountable to any authority. Today’s Mubarak is the same and even more. He enjoys the largess of the US and other western donors from whom his regime has been getting more than $3 billion annually. How has Mubarak managed to do that?

At home, Mubarak created a huge internal security force, over one million in number, nearly three times the size of the Egyptian army. Some of its units--mainly the Central Security Forces and The Republican Guard -- are equipped with the latest from western arsenals. Mubarak justified this in the aftermath of the assassination of President Sadat in October of 1981, citing the need to confront his Islamic militant threat. Few inside the country or abroad questioned his sincerity at the time nor did they object when he simultaneously imposed a State of Emergency. Equally, Mubarak inherited a reservoir of foreign good will which the late Anwar Sadat had accumulated. Western capitols, especially Washington, were more than eager to give Mubarak all the political and economic support he needed to quash Islamic militants and to stay the course on the peace process with Israel.

By the end of the 1980’s, the militant threat had greatly subsided and the peace process was at a standstill. Butros Ghali, then Egypt,s State Minister of Foreign Affairs, described the latter as a “cold peace”. Meanwhile, external debt was sky-rocketing despite all the generous foreign aid and billions in remittances sent home by Egyptians working abroad, due to flagrant mismanagement and rampant corruption. Polite, then candid, and finally blunt warnings from international institutions over the need for reform fell on deaf ears in the Mubarak regime. But then first Gulf War with Iraq came as a reprieve for Mubarak. He lined up with the US-led coalition that was skillfully put together by a more seasoned Bush. After the war was successfully concluded, the Mubarak regime was bailed out of its debt crisis by the cancellation of half of its overdue loans –over $24 billion --and rescheduling of the rest.

Despite several years of economic revival which followed in the 1990’s, the political scene remained stagnant, and the peace process had fallen into a deep freeze by the end of 2000. Mubarak’s role along with that of Saudi Crown Prince Abdulla in discouraging Yasser Arafat from accepting the Camp David deal brokered by President Bill Clinton has and will be debated for years. Even the economic gains of the 1990’s soon quickly eroded. Budding liberal forces raised steady demands for political reform, not only for the sake of good governance, but also to recoup economic losses and restore the comfidence of foreign investors. The latter’s incoming capital had sagged from $3 billion annually in mid-1990’s to a mere 300 million. The fact that the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks, Ayman Zawahery and Mohamed Atta ,were Egyptians dramatized the dismal failure of the Mubarak regime before the world.

Finally, the domestic voices calling for change were joined by external counterparts. Feeling cornered, unable to effect the demanded reforms without power sharing and opening up the system, Mubarak opted for a dual strategy of repression at home and stone-walling vis-à-vis external pressures, especially that coming from the US. The calculation was that a change in the White House or a failure in Iraq might get him off the hook. If that didn’t materialize, the Mubarak regime thought it might still bargain a way out by playing a more constructive role in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together, and by providing a standing service of torturing terrorist suspects for US intelligence.

But the other part of the strategy at home is an all out war on Egypt’s small contingent of liberals. They are calling for constitutional reforms that would make the choice of the president a direct competitive election instead of a referendum on a single candidate and they want a maximum limit of two five-year presidential terms. The reformists have also demanded an end to 24 years of a State of Emergency, ending the State monopoly over the mass media, press freedoms and the right to freely establish political parties and civil society organizations.

Small in number as these liberal forces may be, five of them recently declared their intentions to become candidates for the upcoming presidential election. They are daring Mubarak to respond positively to the demand for constitutional amendments so they can challenge him through the ballot box. In recent weeks, these reformists stepped up the pressure, encouraged by the Palestinian and Iraqi elections which some of them participated in as observers. The Egyptian Popular Movement for Change (EPMC) has defiantly organized rallies, marches and demonstrations. Though the participants were initially in the hundreds, they were encircled by thousands of armed security forces. If foreign media were present, the police would be self-restrained, confining themselves to intimidation tactics.

But as these acts of collective protest grew, the regime’s nerves got more edgy. Three signs of this were displayed recently. A prominent journalist, Reda Hillal of Al-Ahram newspaper was kidnapped from his apartment in a Cairo suburb and has not been heard from since. Close associates claim that his forced disappearance is due to statements made by Hillal about young Gamal Mubarak, who is being groomed to succeed his father. The second episode was more bizarre and directed against the Executive Editor of Al-Araby opposition newspaper, A. H. Kandil, who has been fiercely vocal against Mubarak running for a fifth six-year term. Kandil was abducted late at night by four masked men, taken in an unmarked van to an isolated desert area 50 miles outside Cairo, where he was stripped naked, beaten and abandoned. He wandered until finding a military police unit that administered first aid, gave him clothing and contacted his family. As details of the story became known, public opinion was outraged and Egypt’s Press Syndicate deplored the incident, demanding an immediate investigation. When the Government dragged its feet on the matter, several voices in the opposition papers and on independent Arab satellite networks, began to point accusing fingers at Mubarak directly.

But the latest and most flagrant assault on democracy activists was on January 29th, when Egypt’s rubber-stamp Parliament was convened in an emergency session in order to suspend the parliamentary immunity of one of its members, Ayman Nour. He had not been notified of any wrongdoing or of a request to suspend immunity before hand. The regime justified its request by the need to investigate allegations of forgeries related to the registration of the Al-Ghad Party, which Nour heads. The session was over in less than 30 minutes. As Nour was leaving the Parliament building, he was arrested by the notorious State Security Agency. With unprecedented judicial speed, a prosecution order was issued detaining Nour, not for the normal four or the unusual 14 days pending interrogation, but for 45 days without bail. Again, the opposition and much of the public are up in arms.

Mubarak’s wrath this time is attributed by the English language Al Ahram Weekly (Feb.10) to a meeting Nour and other party members had with former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Congressman Ben Weber, during a fact-finding visit for the Council on Foreign Relations, and because of his active lobbying in parliament to amend the Constitution. The Mubarak regime is quite touchy about both matters. They are keen on presenting Egypt to the West as having only two alternatives: a Mubarak or the Islamists. With people like Ayman Nour and his new but fast-growing Al-Ghad Party, a third peaceful liberal alternative was looming on the horizon for all to see. That is why Mubarak is determined to eliminate Egypt’s liberals. But fortunately history will not be on his side this time.

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