Mubarak victorious despite calls for change

INCUMBENT Egyptian premier Hosni Mubarak looks set to extend his 24-year term after initial reports showed he had scored a resounding victory in the country’s first ever contested presidential election, which took place last week.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  September 11, 2005

The 77-year-old leader — who has ruled Egypt for almost a quarter of a century — was challenged by nine other candidates. However, only two of the contenders were ever in contention; Ayman Nour of the Ghad (Tomorrow) party and Nomaan Gomaa, head of Al Wafd. Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court last week said that organisers could stop independent groups from monitoring the vote inside booths. The ruling overturned a previous decision, but international monitors were still not allowed to observe. Despite moves to liberalise the electoral process, laws restrict candidates, and decrees against non-governmental groups bar them from properly monitoring the elections. Independent candidates were precluded from running and opposition contenders could only campaign for three-weeks. Egypt’s state-run media have also largely ignored opposition campaigns. “What is significant about the state of Egyptian politics today is not the cosmetic, tactical liberalisation that Mubarak has implemented,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, the producer of an annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. “Rather, it is the Egyptian people’s unprecedented political engagement and a burgeoning civic movement demanding political change,” she added. Almost every week in the build up to the elections, hundreds of activists took to the streets shouting slogans against the president. Most of the demonstrators belong to a year-old movement called Kifaya — Arabic for “Enough” — which has been campaigning against a new term for Mubarak. Kifaya’s protests are unprecedented in a country where the government has always clamped down on demonstrations and where the ruler has always been on a pedestal, completely above criticism. “Silence is betrayal nowadays, all over the world,” says Hany Anan, one of the founders of Kifaya. “We're showing Egyptians that we can challenge the ruler, we can tell him we don’t want you and we can do this in public and go back home, maybe with some wounds or some bruises, but we still go home. I think people are starting to suspect the culture of fear,” he added. The Egyptian government, however, has been careful to provide this election with all the trappings of a fair and democratic race. All candidates have been able to campaign and have been given equal TV slots to explain their political programmes. Despite this, after decades of rigged elections, many Egyptians do not want to vote. It is this apathy that a new internet-based group called ShayfeenCom wants to change. “ShayfeenCom means ‘we are watching you’ and we are watching out for violations,” said Ghada Shahbandar, the spokeswoman of the group. “We want every Egyptian to say we are watching you, we will not accept violations and we will report them,” she added. They have set up a website to receive complaints and they say they have recruited via the internet volunteers all over the country to watch out for violations. Nevertheless, many observers believe the election could herald a new mood in Egyptian politics, which could continue beyond the election. But the real test will be its ability to galvanise the large numbers of Egyptians who have been put off politics by the autocratic practices of the last 50 years.

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