2000-2009: Decoding a difficult decade
While the past decade at times promised sweeping political reforms little actually changed. Amending Article 76 of the constitution permitted multi-candidate presidential elections yet the way the new article was drafted, claimed the opposition, drained it of meaning.
Constitutional changes eliminated full judicial supervision of elections, opening the door to opposition charges that they will facilitate vote rigging, and made it extremely difficult for an independent to stand in the presidential poll. Egypt's first contested presidential elections took place in 2005, but with no serious alternative candidate President Hosni Mubarak romped home.
The presidential elections, together with the two parliamentary elections, highlighted the shortcomings of legal political parties. The only exception to the general rule of political atrophy was the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In the 2005 elections its members, standing as independents, won 88 parliamentary seats.
Gamal Mubarak, the president's younger son, continued his meteoric rise through the ranks of the National Democratic Party, fuelling speculation that he is being groomed as Egypt's next president. Meanwhile, a culture of protest emerged, with demonstrators taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers, demanding the government act to address their grievances, not least stagnant wages during a time of hyper-inflation.
The decade was also punctuated by tragedies, with the transport sector among the hardest hit. Train passengers were incinerated and ferry passengers drowned. Negligence was the cause, yet no one has been tried for accidents that cost thousands of lives. There were, too, sporadic outbreaks of sectarian violence. The response was invariably piecemeal, a patching together of solutions rather than a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem.
Against this backdrop, Egyptians by contrast had reasons for joy as they found ways to rally around the flag. There were moments for them to cheer up, celebrating victories of their national football team. The international acknowledgement of the achievements of a number of outstanding figures gave rise to public sense of pride and helped to dispel the gloom of a nasty decade.