By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave a speech to the newly elected parliament on Sunday, amid wide applause and praise from the parliament members; however, the opposition’s reaction to the speech from outside the parliament’s walls was entirely different.
Karima Al-Hifnawy, a member of the National Association for Change and the Kefaya Movement for Change, told Daily News Egypt that the speech lacked “any credibility.”
President Mubarak reiterated what he said last week regarding last month’s elections, stating that it enhanced democracy and taught the people new lessons.
“These lessons [learned during the recent elections] confirm that the people are the only criterion and judge [for selecting the parliament],” Mubarak stated.
Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party swept the polls in the last election, winning 420 seats out of 508 amid wide accusations of election violations and vote rigging.
“These lessons prove that the peoples’ [political awareness] has improved, and that the only way to receive the people’s votes is through hard faithful work,” Mubarak added.
Sobhi Saleh, former Muslim Brotherhood MP, told Daily News Egypt that “if the previous elections were democratic, than Egypt is history.”
“There are over 2,000 verdicts calling for the annulment of the elections in several constituencies,” the former MP added. “Does that mean that all the courts know nothing about law or democracy? I hoped that Mubarak’s advisors would have been honest with him regarding the violations, violence, and vote rigging that took place in the elections.”
Mubarak also stated that “the political work of parties and parliament is merely a means to serve the people and the country, and to enhance democracy.”
“All this is mentioned in Egypt’s Constitution, but it’s not implemented on the ground,” Al-Hifnawy told Daily News Egypt. “We still have the Emergency Law, demonstrations are still being prevented by security forces, and there are more restrictions on the freedom of the media, let alone the flagrant violations that took place in last month’s elections.”
Mubarak went on to hail Egypt’s economy, stating that “Egypt’s economy stood [strong] in front of the two consecutive global economic crises, using [the country’s] own resources without [the] economy being affected.
“Many countries have resorted to reducing public spending, increasing [governmental] lay-offs, decreasing salaries, pensions and unemployment welfare, while [the Egyptian] economy [has] stood strong [despite the global economic climate].”
Mubarak added that the economy’s growth rate will increase by 8 percent in the next five years as new industrial, commercial, and agricultural policies will be established to increase productivity and exports.
The president said that the parliament needed to approve a bill that would achieve 6 percent growth next year and that would provide 70,000 job opportunities for the youth, stressing the importance of serving the people who suffer from limited incomes.
“The government’s role as an organizer and observer [of] economic activities, [as well as] its encouragement of the private sector, is met by an essential and constant role in protecting the less fortunate … supporting the poor, and those who need care and support,” Mubarak stated.
One MP praised Mubarak in the middle of his speech, saying that the president looked after all the poor people and those who suffer from limited incomes.
“God bless you,” the MP concluded.
“We were all poor,” Mubarak responded, followed closely by applause and laughter from those present in the assembly.
However, Al-Hifnawy did not believe the president’s comments were a laughing matter.
“The President said the same thing in the beginning of the previous parliamentary term,” Al-Hifnawy said. “But nothing happened. All the [economic] laws issued by the previous parliament … favored the private sector and the businessmen who monopolize the market, without giving any consideration to the people’s [overall] best interests.”
“Forty percent of the Egyptian people live under [or close to] the poverty line, the unemployment has increased significantly, and product prices keep going up,” said Saleh.
Regarding Egypt’s peaceful nuclear program, Mubarak announced that technical studies have concluded regarding the construction of four nuclear power plants designated to generate electricity.
“The issue of energy resources will continue to be an important issue in building this country’s future, and [will be] an essential part of Egypt’s national security,” the President stated.
Emad Gad, an international relations expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Daily News Egypt that “Egypt’s peaceful nuclear program is under the complete supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so the only problem that could face Egypt in those regards will be who Egypt decides to cooperate with in this field.
“America has offered its services, but Egypt might [not] prefer … to be under America’s supervision, and [instead might] decide to cooperate with China,” Gad added.
The president also addressed the fallout between Egypt and the Nile basin countries regarding Egypt and Sudan’s share in the Nile water, saying that Egypt will continue negotiations with these countries in a bid to reach a proper solution.
“The president wanted to stress that any problems with the Nile Basin countries will be solved peacefully through negotiations, and that Egypt will not resort to any force,” Gad said.
“Egypt has already succeeded in strengthening its relations with the Nile Basin countries [other than] Ethiopia,” he added.
Mubarak also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, criticizing the United States and various European countries for not doing enough to resolve the conflict and to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop building settlements on Palestinian land.
“What’s important to the president is to [clear] himself [of any allegations of] negligence regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Gad said.
Al-Hifnawy criticized the Egyptian government’s efforts in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an Arab issue and it’s an issue of national security for Egypt … what is Egypt doing for the Palestinians?”
“How come Egypt hasn’t eased the siege on Gaza, or took a strong stance against Israel — like summoning the Israeli ambassador in Egypt to discuss Israel’s stance towards the Palestinians?” Saleh asked.
The former MP stated that the Muslim Brotherhood has a distinct stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has gone ignored.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has a different view than the government regarding the Palestinian issue,” he explained. “Will the government listen to our view, or will it suffice to listen only to its own voice?”
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst from Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, disagreed with the opposition.
“Before Egypt is criticized for not playing a bigger role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian factions — including Hamas, Fatah and the Islamic Jihad, which are being controlled by Iran and Syria — need to resolve their issues and unite.”
Regarding Egypt’s foreign policy and national security, Mubarak said “We do not accept any conditions or orders (from any country) and we will not waiver our sovereignty and independent will.”
“What we say in public is what we say behind closed doors,” the President added, in reference to the new wikileaks documents that revealed US diplomats’ reports of meetings with Egyptian officials and their analysis of Egypt’s political scene. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit had made similar remarks earlier.
Gad, however, disagreed. “That’s not true; no country’s policies indoors are the same as in public, that’s just how politics works.”
Al-Hifnawy summed up the president’s speech by stating that “either the president is oblivious to what’s happening in the country, or he’s living in a different country among different people.”