Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Spurring democracy

By Hamdin Sabbahi *

Hamdin Sabbahi Egypt faces a complex knot of economic problems, not least vast inequalities in wealth. There are equally complex problems when it comes to Egypt's regional role given US-backed Israel's monopoly on the peace process. But no less grave is the problem of democracy. A single party monopolises the nation's political life, marginalising all opposition parties.

Under present conditions there is little likelihood of any quick fix to either the economic crisis or to determining an appropriate regional role. Democratisation, though, could be spurred along provided the following criteria are met.

First the freedom and fairness of elections must be guaranteed. Press freedom, including the right to issue newspapers, collect information, and name those officials who refuse to give information when requested, must also be guaranteed, while legislation seeking to punish journalists for publishing the results of their investigations must be abrogated. Freedom to form political parties must be granted and trade unions strengthened by lifting sequestration constraints. Student Union statutes should also be returned to their 1976 format and allow for freedom of association.

Of course, democratisation does not occur in a vacuum, and there must be some provision for a more equitable division of wealth, as well as greater linkage between the political process, the provision of education and the undertaking of research. Presidential elections must, too, be open to more than one candidate and the referendum system should be cancelled.

The main obstacle to democracy, though, remains the interface between corruption, normalisation with Israel, and repression. Those who believe in democracy, however, are destined to forge ahead, paying whatever price is exacted.

* This week's Soapbox speaker is a journalist and member of the Press Syndicate's Council.

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