28 Jan. - 3 Feb. 1999
Issue No. 414
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Report urgesBy Shaden Shehab and Mona El-Nahhas
The Arab Strategic Report issued last week by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies suggests early national elections as a solution to the shortcomings of the incumbent People's Assembly. The annual report recommends that the elections coincide with next October's referendum on renewing President Hosni Mubarak's tenure for a fourth term. But it cautions that the "mistakes and violations that took place during the 1995 parliamentary elections should be avoided."
The report says that Egyptians have high expectations for President Mubarak's fourth term because his third term has witnessed significant economic advances. "Therefore, the fourth term should not start on an obstructive note, such as parliamentary deputies failing to show up to People's Assembly sessions," the report says. "Some of these deputies believe that their only role is to seek the executive authority's endorsement of the requests of their constituents. Otherwise they would turn against the prime minister."
The report criticised MPs for failing to act as proper legislators, approving government-sponsored bills without serious debate. "This resulted from tacit agreement between the two sides," the report says. "Under this agreement, deputies are required to applaud and back government actions and in return government officials approve the requests of their constituents."
The report also says that absentee MPs should be punished in accordance with the Assembly's regulations.
The report warns that unless obstacles to the formation of new parties are removed, the main parties will be threatened with collapse. "If the formation of a political party was easy, a contender who could not gain the leader's post would quit and form his own party," the report argues. "We should not fear a large number of parties, because only the strong will survive."
The report urges an amendment to article eight of the Political Parties Law which states that a party's platform should be unique. "In most cases, the Political Parties Committee cited this article as the reason for its refusal to license a new party," the report says.
Assessing the state of the domestic press, the report argues that the campaign against the so-called yellow press was unsuccessful because it did not address the root of the problem. It blames the mushrooming of such newspapers, mostly published under foreign licences, on restrictive regulations that do not allow the establishment of new newspapers. "If serious newspapers are allowed to publish, then the sensational ones will disappear. The solution is not to stop this type of newspaper, but to allow others to publish," the report says.
The 1998 Al-Ahram Arab Strategic Report
On the subject of the alleged persecution of Copts, the report argues that religion has little to do with the problems faced by Copts. Weak democratic institutions and human rights violations are the main reasons behind the problems faced by all Egyptians, be they Coptic or Muslim. The report accuses certain politicians and intellectuals of making exaggerated claims to make the public believe that widespread persecution of Copts is a reality. Under the slogan of national unity and opposition to political Islam, they have helped to create a groundless commotion around this issue, which has in turn been exploited by the foreign press. The report advocates democratic reform as the solution to the problems of both Copts and Muslims.
The report notes that Copts often complain about their limited participation in high office and about restrictions on the building of new churches. It recommends a just distribution of important posts to ensure that the most able people, whether Muslim or Coptic, get the opportunities they deserve. At present appointments to senior positions are usually influenced by personal considerations that have nothing to do with religious affiliation.
On the issue of church-building the report claims that the problem is not confined to churches alone. It cites the policy of "nationalising" mosques by placing them under the control of the Ministry of Al-Awqaf (religious endowments).
Regulations on the establishment of places of worship aim at reducing the likelihood of sectarian strife as a result of competition between Muslims and Copts over the number of new mosques and churches, the report argues. It says that construction licences for 21 churches were issued in 1998 and dozens of churches were allowed to be renovated.
The report says that religious violence has declined over the past year, with the security forces gaining the upper hand in the confrontation with Islamist militants. The report praises the new security policies introduced by Interior Minister Habib El-Adli, which resulted in the release of about 5,000 detainees over the past year, but stresses that this was not the result of any deal between the government and the Islamist groups. The report recommends immediate political reform as the best way of avoiding a revival of religious violence.
On the other hand the report highlights the alarming rise in social violence, particularly among university and secondary school students. Young men were resorting to violence after realising that the "principle of force" prevailed throughout society. The remedy is the supremacy of the law and a war against corruption in all its forms, the report says.
As for the economy, the report highlights the growth in domestic production which reached 6 per cent according to official estimates and over 5 per cent according to IMF figures. Moreover, the inflation rate dropped to less than 4 per cent from 6.2 per cent in 1997.
On the other hand, the report points out that the continuing trade deficit means that production does not match consumption. It also warns that domestic debt has risen to an alarming level.
Bleak and challenging