Egypt Quelling Opponents of Longtime Leader - Fifth Term for Mubarak at Issue (WASHINGTON POST) By Daniel Williams CAIRO, Egypt 02/02/05 Page A14)
WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-Top
CAIRO, Feb. 1 -- Egyptian authorities have cracked down on opposition
groups in recent days during a time of increasingly active efforts to
stop President Hosni Mubarak from extending his 24-year rule in a
referendum later this year.
On Saturday, police arrested Ayman Nour, leader of the opposition
Tomorrow Party. Prosecutors charged him with falsifying petitions
that resulted in the legalization of his party last October. On
Monday morning, a court extended the initial four-day detention to 45
days, according to his wife, Gamila Ismail.
"It´s a message to him and every party that opposes the government,"
Ismail said. "Active parties that are serious about opening offices
and genuinely recruiting followers will not be allowed."
Ismail said police raided Nour´s office and home. They confiscated
computers from his house and rifled through medicine cabinets and
Nour´s tobacco supply, Ismail said, adding, "It was certain they are
looking for anything to frame him."
Last Friday, police arrested three activists at the Cairo book fair,
an annual trade show, as they were handing out leaflets inviting the
public to an anti-Mubarak rally scheduled for Friday.
The arrests followed several months of relative tolerance by the
police. Opposition organizations have staged periodic demonstrations
to oppose a fifth term in office for Mubarak as well as to voice
suspicions that he plans to hand power to his son, Gamal.
"The arrests are an escalation," said Wael Khalil, a member of the
Movement for Change, a coalition of anti-Mubarak groups. "There was
interim improvement, but it looks like the old intimidation is back."
Police also confiscated books at the fair that demanded an end to
Mubarak´s rule and arrested 10 students at Minufiya University
northwest of Cairo on Sunday.
Government spokesman Ahmed Eissa declined to comment on the
arrests. "Wait and see," he advised.
Mubarak´s opponents have organized numerous and sometimes quixotic
efforts to head off another six-year term of office for the
president. Three activists have announced they would run, though many
observers say there is little chance that the government will
institute multi-candidate elections.
Under current rules, parliament nominates a single candidate who is
then ratified by referendum. Mubarak´s National Democratic Party
controls more than 80 percent of the assembly seats. Change would
require a constitutional amendment.
Muhammed Farid Hassanin, a former member of parliament and a declared
candidate, campaigned last week at an athletic club near Cairo. He
told 200 men in the audience that it was Egypt´s "shame" to have
The speech set off earnest debate, with some audience members
chanting in favor of Mubarak. In Hassanin´s view, it was a success
nonetheless. "People say there is no alternative to Mubarak. For the
first time, they have the chance to see one, even if it is just me,"
he said in an interview later. "Yes, it´s strange. A campaign without
elections. But we must try everything."
His campaign and the campaigns of the two other challengers --
sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and feminist writer Nawal Saadawi --
come in the context both of domestic ferment in Egypt and a
perception that the U.S. government, long an ally of Mubarak, wants
Even though opposition leaders expect little from President Bush
directly, they say his stand against "tyranny" at least provides a
small opening for them. Hassanin conjectured that the presence of a
foreign television crew at his sports club speech kept police from
breaking up the rally. "At least they know outsiders are interested
in Egypt," he said of the government.
Others point out that Bush could take small, symbolic steps. "No one
expects Bush to turn off the money to Egypt or break relations," said
Ibrahim, referring to the $2 billion in U.S. aid provided annually to
Egypt. "But how about not inviting Mubarak to the White House? That
would be a start."
Ibrahim was once jailed for 15 months on charges, later dropped, of
sullying Egypt´s image and illegally receiving funds from the
European Union to monitor 1995 elections. He acknowledges that his
candidacy is effectively a publicity stunt. "I want to encourage
others. We can have one, two, hundreds of candidates," he said.
Saadawi, the third candidate, has been traveling outside of Egypt and
could not be reached for her views. She has issued statements arguing
that it would be fit and proper for a woman to rule Egypt and has
called for Egypt to fight "plunder and aggression by the U.S. and
While these symbolic candidacies are in full swing, Mubarak´s
intentions have been difficult to pin down. In early January, Kamal
Shazli, assistant secretary general of Mubarak´s National Democratic
Party, announced that the party had already selected the president as
its candidate. Gamal Mubarak quickly contradicted him and labeled the
announcement "contemptuous of the people´s will."
During interviews with foreign and Egyptian reporters this month,
President Mubarak danced around the issue. At one point, he said he
had yet to decide. Then, to the satellite television channel al-
Arabiya, he hinted he would run if the people wanted him to.
In mid-January, he called an Egyptian talk show and spoke wistfully
of the difficulties of being president. "It is very tough to be in
office. It is no luxury at all," he said. "Anyone who would be
president of Egypt will have to work until he is drained of energy.
It is a job that consumes one´s health, time and nerves.
"I cannot go visit anyone because I am afraid that security will be a
bother," he said. "I cannot have a walk like anyone else. . . . I am
stripped of my freedoms." With those caveats, he welcomed
competition. "Let them all run," he said.
The invitation did not translate into support for constitutional
change, however. According to the pro-government al-Ahram Weekly
newspaper, Mubarak told a closed meeting of "intellectuals" on Jan.
16 that "foreign powers" were funding the demand for constitutional
changes. The same day, his party´s secretary general, Safwat Sharif,
repeated the accusation.
Last Saturday while traveling to an African summit, Mubarak told
reporters that the current system of having parliament choose the
president has kept Egypt stable and that demands for constitutional
change were pointless.
In any case, some opposition leaders think Mubarak is unstoppable for
now. In an interview two days before his arrest, Ayman Nour said, "We
expect him to run and to win, though that is not what we hope. The
struggle is just beginning."
Nour´s party has come up with a program to introduce rule by
parliament in Egypt, with a weak presidency. Another group, the
Committee in Defense of Democracy, wants to make the president more
answerable to parliament. (© 2005 The Washington Post Company
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY