Widely touted 25th anniversary under the microscope
CAIRO: In the wake of celebrations marking the “25th anniversary of Mubarak (a tag used by national newspapers) last October, analyst and political veteran Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, says President Hosni Mubarak’s “peace years have saved the country from war and conflict but not from poverty and underdevelopment.
Harb, president of the newly founded Democratic Front Party and editor of International Politics Quarterly is also a former National Democratic Party (NDP) member, who had been invited to join the NDP by the party’s deputy and president’s son Gamal Mubarak.
Harb chose to leave the party after, as he described, he realized that “it’s not the tool for reform.
“Twenty-five years of Mubarak. These are regarded by Mubarak as peace years. However, generally any society must benefit from this time. We did not, Harb told The Daily Star Egypt.
“In the early 1980s Egypt was very similar to South Korea in terms of development. Now we have a huge gap. Now they’re a flourishing country and Egypt is very weak.
Last week, the President embarked upon a multi-leg Asian-European tour to discuss ways of boosting economic trade and oil exchange and to rally support for the newly publicized nuclear energy program, as national newspapers continue to focus on how Egypt is moving toward reform after two and half decades of “trust in Mubarak.
In Al-Akhbar newspaper, NDP head Safwat Al-Sherif said in reference to Mubarak’s meeting with the NDP leaders on the eve of his trip that “enhancing political and economic reform is high on the [NDP] agenda. Al-Sherif said that transforming welfare plans into concrete steps is one of the expected outcomes.
The president made a surprise announcement during last week’s high-profile NDP meeting, stating that the much-criticized Article 76 of the constitution will be further amended. The article had been altered to allow multi-candidacy in presidential elections, but opponents still complain that it places tough limitations on independents.
On one hand, the incumbent 78-year-old Egyptian president promised more reform.
On the other, some opposition and veteran analysts insist that reform claims by the NDP are baseless.
“What the president promised is just that: promises, says Amr Hashem Rabie, senior analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “These [promises] do not change the profile of political life. Article 76’s constitutional amendment will only benefit political parties and squash independents – mainly the Muslim Brotherhood – and even the benefit to the parties will be transient and restricted.
“If there is anything that characterizes the years of Mubarak, then it’s definitely the continuation of totalitarianism and the desire from the side of the current regime to monopolize power, says Rabie.
“We have setbacks in everything, adds an equally outspoken Harb, who says that the past three decades have made Egypt “war-free but not worry-free. “Where is the social development and economic reform? Egyptians are drenched in poverty.
Harb says that even though Egypt has experienced political mobility in the past few years, the country still suffers extensively from weak political structures.
The NDP itself has become a “government bureaucracy, says Harb, explaining that in his opinion the establishment continues to ostensibly act like a party but “in essence it is more like a state-owned institution. According to Harb, those who lash out against the regime are subjected to harsh press campaigns from NDP-backed newspapers.
Rabie credits the government’s attitude to “the fact that it acquired its legitimacy from military achievements like the 1952 Free Officers’ Revolution, which resulted in a republic and in turn the current regime, and the 1973 October War.
“It’s a military system . that naturally refuses any reform, he says.
“Our country’s high ranks are dominated by non-civilian [military] big wheels.
Not everyone paints such a dismal picture of the past 25 years, however. In fact, some experts regard the past decades under Mubarak as a period of level strength and stability. Mona Makram Ebeid, former MP and political science professor, says that “the beginning years of Mubarak were full of hope.
“He started out as a ruler who was keen on having pluralism established . and there was great hope that Egypt was entering a new era of democratic transformation, says Ebeid. “Then came the 1990s, an era when there was more emphasis on stability rather than democracy.
Ebeid regards even the past period, in the 2000s, as a turning point toward more social awareness, where citizens “shed fear and apathy and took to the streets demanding the lifting of restrictions on civil liberties.
Only in 2006, according to the veteran politician, was there a noticeable setback. “Unfortunately, in 2006 there was a setback; with more stringent restrictions on freedoms in general, says Ebeid, referring to recent constitutional amendments believed by many to have hindered press freedom and judicial independence.
“On the social side, I don’t think that the majority of Egyptians are better off than they were 25 years ago.
“In a nutshell, what Egyptians [still] need and have not gotten yet is a voice and a job, says Ebeid.
According to Ebeid, there’s also been deterioration in party life. “[The political sphere] has been reduced to two main forces: the government party that continues to be reluctant to relinquish control over the political system and the so-called illegal Muslim Brotherhood who is keen on winning the hearts and minds of the majority of Egyptians.
As the NDP continues to list achievements following 25 years of Mubarak’s reign, some like Harb continue to say Egypt “is now worse than ever.
“The country is deteriorating in everything. It is now worse than 50 years ago. There is more pollution, no order, the streets are not clean. Cairo is one of the oldest cities in the world and look how it looks now, says Harb, adding that “what makes matters worse is the ignorance that is tarnishing political life.
Twenty-five years of NDP, says Harb, has left the country with many scenarios but no clear expectations of the real future of Egypt.
“There are scenarios for what will happen next; inheritance of power, coup d’etat by the armed forces, foreign intervention or perhaps total chaos, the analyst said. “But in reality, no one really knows what will happen tomorrow. If God forbid something happened to the president, no one knows what will happen.
Indeed one of the scenarios is that of rising Islamic militancy, a looming threat represented in the Muslim Brotherhood, which some uphold and many vehemently refuse.
Regarding talks of a rising threat of “Islamism as a reaction to the policies of the current regime, Harb, on a more positive note, said that Islamic militancy is a far-fetched possibility but “Islamic politics or “politicized Islam is a potential reality.
“There’s a threat of Islamic politics to take reign; but this is just the product of authoritarian rule. Fanaticism and radical groups are only the outcome of dictatorships.
“If the undemocratic regime collapses, the Islamic trend will automatically replace it, said Harb.
He said that Islamic clerics are usually the hardest to crush, shedding light on why a group like the Muslim Brotherhood has survived despite a constant government clampdown over the past 25 years.
“The nature of our cultures, in Muslim societies, enables islamists to be strong under authoritarians. They are entrenched in the roots of the society and when they’re oppressed they gain the sympathy of the people, said Harb.
In the same context, many of the opposition voices have accused the government of using the Muslim Brotherhood as an “alibi to stay in power and “scare the US and the West.
Hamas, came to power, hindering peace talks and engaging in bloody side battles with Fatah before falling again. This Palestinian example and the idea has arguably led the US to loosen its grip on authoritarian re
gimes in the Middle East, choosing stability over democracy, as some analysts earlier explained to The Daily Star Egypt.
“The main threat to this country is the despotic state; it is undemocratic rule not Islamic rule that is threatening [our stability], says Harb.
“If worse comes to worse and the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power, they will be forced out by the people. The average Egyptian is not an extremist.