Egypt goes to the polls tomorrow, to vote in a referendum on new rules for presidential elections. It is a change the ruling National Democratic Party describes as heralding a new era of democracy but one the opposition has denounced as a farce. Endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the NPD-dominated parliament, the revision would mean direct presidential elections with more than one candidate in place of referendums on a single candidate chosen by MPs.
But the main opposition parties are urging a boycott of the referendum, arguing the new rules contain too many conditions for any candidate outside the NPD to win. “It is not a true referendum,” said this Muslim Brotherhood party official. “It is a farce under the name of referendum and it’s an attempt by the National Democratic Party, which governs Egypt, to continue reigning despite the will of the people.”
Speaking out against President Hosni Mubarak can be risky but some people expressed scepticism. “We are currently facing a difficult period. All Egyptians must understand how to practise democracy,” said this man. And this man asked: “Who is the person that a third of the assembly will agree on, besides the president?”
It could possibly be his youngest son, Gamal Mubarak. Discreetly but surely he has risen to power and is now number three in the NPD. A former banker, he has close links with the US business world. It is a succession, which would probably not displease Washington. On an official visit on Monday, First Lady Laura Bush welcomed the recent moves in Egypt: “I’m very, very happy with the idea of an election here, a presidential election. I think Mubarak has been wise and bold to take the first step.”The support of the United States has delighted the pro-Mubarak camp but infuriated those who oppose what they see as a change that will, in effect, allow the NPD to stay in power indefinitely.