The morning after
As the elections roll to their inevitable conclusion, the most pressing questions concern the features that will mark a fifth term for Mubarak, writes Omayma Abdel-Latif
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A LONG TIME WAITING: A young Egyptian holds the voting card and ballot paper of her father on the day of the first multi-candidate presidential elections in the country's history
Believe the politicians and post-election Egypt is about to witness profound political, social and economic changes. According to National Democratic Party (NDP) pundits, including some of Hosni Mubarak's closest aides, Egypt is on the threshold of a new chapter of Mubarak's third republic, a period the incumbent has himself described as transitional and during which Egyptians will witness "major changes", according to leading NDP member Alieddin Hilal.
One-party rule, says Hilal, cannot last forever and the scene is being set for a peaceful delegation of authority. But change, he argues, will be led from within the regime, constructed in such a way as to minimise any shocks to the system. "The political process," he insists, "is now subject to a new dynamic at the heart of which will be the restructuring of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled."
There are many who will quibble with Hilal's optimistic prognosis of post-election, trauma-free reform. Indeed, several commentators have already pointed to a shift that occurred in Mubarak's rhetoric during the closing days of the campaign. In recent statements Mubarak has said that Egypt is not in the process of moving towards a parliamentary system and the president, despite early election pledges that some prerogatives will be handed to the People's Assembly and the cabinet, will remain at the heart of the political system.
Nor is any major redrawing of the relationship between the president and the ruling party, or between the ruling party and the state apparatus, likely.
That the president give up the chairmanship of the NDP and a complete separation of the state and the ruling party be enforced has been a long-standing opposition demand. But in almost every press appearance Mubarak insisted that no conflict of interest exists between the two posts and regularly downplayed suggestions that the NDP enjoyed a monopoly over state apparatuses. He also ruled out the need for a new constitution, dashing hopes for any major constitutional overhaul.
Mubarak is unlikely to change his position vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood. In his final TV appearance of the campaign he reiterated his belief that the Muslim Brotherhood should not be allowed to form a political party though its members "are free to join other parties if they like".
Most analysts expect the business community to be rewarded for the backing it gave to the Mubarak campaign, with businessmen consolidating their influence during the next six years.
"Mubarak's fifth term will be a carbon copy of previous terms," believes Abdallah El-Sinawi, editor of Al-Arabi newspaper, mouthpiece of the Nasserist Party. "The only change is that it will have a less autocratic flavour, will be a more benign autocracy if you like."
For the first time in 24 years of rule, the president will have been elected through the ballot box. Many, though, question whether this new legitimacy will remain uncontested and there are growing concerns that the NDP will find it difficult to abandon the entrenched habit of vote-rigging, leading to the possibility that civil society organisations will seek to question the legality, and margin, of Mubarak's victory.
"The best case scenario is that no more than 15 million of the 32 million registered voters will have actually cast their ballot," says one human rights activist. "Mubarak will have been elected by a minority in what was effectively a masked referendum."
The NDP's annual convention will be the first major political event following the elections and the sole item on its agenda, according to NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif, will be to discuss how the president's electoral platform can be implemented. El-Sherif poured cold water on suggestions that any restructuring of the party's hierarchy would take place following the elections, insisting that there will be no changes before 2007.
That, say commentators close to the NDP, may well be wishful thinking on the secretary- general's part since the party's old guard -- men like Kamal El-Shazli, Fathi Sorour and El-Sherif himself -- are unlikely to remain forever immune to the changes sweeping Egypt's political scene.
While the abolition of emergency laws was among Mubarak's campaign pledges, the failure to provide a timetable for its implementation means few people are holding their breath. Yet the fate of 17,000 political prisoners depends on emergency laws being ended. Then, according to Hilal, all prisoners will be released except those suspected of terrorist-related activities.
While Mubarak is likely to stick to his longstanding belief in the importance of introducing change gradually, just how gradual that will be -- in an environment in which the NDP is no longer the sole political player -- will depend on the future direction of protest movements.
Kifaya has already vowed it will not disappear from the post-election political scene. On the contrary, it will intensify its political presence. In a press conference last Sunday Kifaya spokesperson George Ishaq said the movement intends to field candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections and is currently looking into the possibility of setting up a committee to draft an alternative to the current constitution. Kifaya is not alone in pinning its hopes on November's parliamentary elections; both the Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood are also busy preparing for the elections.
Mubarak's fifth term as president, argues Amr El-Chobaki, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, could well constitute a watershed in Egypt's recent history. "The dilemma is compounded," he says, "by a regime that is neither capable nor willing to implement reforms and a reform movement as yet unable to reach out to the masses. The result, El-Chobaki predicts, will be a further weakening of the regime as competing power centres emerge. "The endgame, during a fifth mandate, will see the regime seeking to hold on to power without any increase in accountability."