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A Chance for Reform in Egypt

A Chance for Reform in EgyptA Fletcher student writes that a window may be opening for reform in Egypt, where a decades-long state of emergency has long-repressed many constitutional freedoms.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.08.05] In the wake of a fatal bomb attack at Egypt's Sharm-El-Sheik resort in late July, President Hosni Mubarak announced his intention to seek a fifth term in office. The announcement comes as a reform movement determinedly opposed to the emergency rules that have governed the Arab state since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat continues to evolve. One Fletcher School student hopes that this reform movement will continue to flourish.

"Democracy in Egypt first requires achieving the measure of political liberty and breathing space necessary to create viable opposition parties that augment their cries of 'Enough!' with concrete plans and popular support," Daniel Benaim wrote in an op-ed published in The Boston Globe. This summer, Benaim is a fellow at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo.

Mubarak says that he will replace the emergency rules – which suppress many freedoms of speech and assembly guaranteed by Egypt's constitution – with additional measures designed to combat terrorism. Benaim believes that the Sharm-El-Sheik attack – the second large-scale fatal attack on the resort in the past year – could be an excuse to continue squelching political liberty.

"[The July 23] attack creates the possibility that the threat of Islamist militancy in Egypt will serve as a pretext for preserving and even expanding repressive laws that extend far beyond the imperative of combating terror," he wrote in an op-ed for the New York Post.

Benaim says that this approach – which has resulted in the banning of political parties, suppression of political speech and restriction of free assembly – is flawed.

"While pro-regime intellectuals argue that the attack shows the continued need for political repression, it also shows that 25 years of emergency law have failed to stop religious extremist violence," he wrote.

Mubarak's willingness to alter these rules, the Fletcher student says, could provide an occasion for change.

"The fact that the president himself has called for their rewriting could represent an opening for the forces of reform to discuss core issues that have long been off the bargaining table," Benaim wrote in the Post.

"The confluence of elections this fall, a discontented populace no longer afraid to demonstrate, the looming question of presidential succession, and newly vigorous foreign pressure create a unique opportunity for reform in Egyptian politics," he further detailed in the Globe.

The reform movement in Egypt, he wrote in the Post, has recently "shown unprecedented boldness in making its demands in the streets of Egypt's cities." The key to encouraging further progress, he wrote, is "international pressure," particularly from the United States.

" America will continue to cooperate with the current Mubarak regime to fight terror and provide stability in the region. Now, however, would be an excellent time to leverage longtime U.S. support for Egypt and Mubarak to push for much-needed reforms," Benaim wrote in the Post.

Despite the need to continue joint efforts against terrorism, Benaim urges, the U.S. cannot stand idly by in the face of the need for reform.

"[ America] should not turn a tragedy into a blank check for a president and a party who stretched a 1981 murder into a quarter-century of nondemocratic, extraconstitutional rule," he wrote in the Globe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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