Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 June 2005
Issue No. 747
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Reform and change

Since the US started to visualise a greater Middle East the region has been abuzz with talk about reform.

The Alexandria document came up with proposals urging reform with the same zeal as Washington but nothing much came of it. Then the government entered the game promising -- ahead of the National Democratic Party congress -- that reform is on the way. Little came of that. Then it was the turn of opposition parties to speak, and they didn't say much. Intellectuals and NGOs sprang into action, gathering under the umbrella of the Egyptian Movement for Change. Yet reform seems as distant as ever. Why?

First, you cannot talk about political reform without linking it with economic policy. Those who speak about reform focus mainly on political and individual freedoms, on curtailing the power of the presidency and free elections. It is the agenda of the already comfortably off. These demands have been around for years and have yet to capture the nation's imagination. We have parties with no significant following, and an opposition movement with negligible popular support.

No one has yet to offer a coherent vision of where reform will end. The Muslim Brotherhood coats its policies with a theological veneer which is, in the end, unlikely to appeal to the public, though they do enjoy some political leverage which the government is trying in vain to curtail through security measures.

Talk of reform is meaningless in the absence of a specific agenda that attracts public support. The opposition can demand reform as loudly as it wishes but until they come up with specific proposals -- contained within a coherent manifesto -- that appeals to the majority of the public they will be shouting in the wind.

President Hosni Mubarak's call to amend Article 76 could have been the start of real reform. Without follow- up measures though -- a timeframe, a specific and binding agenda for democratic change, and the reform of political parties, the media, educational system and religious institutions -- the amendment is worth little.

Political gimmicks cannot satisfy real demands for change. The time is ripe for a new presidential initiative capable of firing the nation's imagination. We need a genuine partnership between the opposition, the government and the people in order to build on the momentum created by the amendment of Article 76.

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