Get Out The Vote (Egyption Edition) - For What It's Worth

Tomorrow marks a first in Egypt: a multi-party presidential election.

The spread of multiparty democracy is never bad news, particularly in the Middle East, but before we pop open the champagne, we should remember that the news isn't all good. Joshua Hammer of The New Republic notes that not all candidates appear to be treated equally:

The two leading candidates can denounce [long-reigning President Hosni] Mubarak on the stump for the permitted 13-day campaign, but theiir voices are seldom heard and their faces are rarely seen in the state-controlled press. During the week I spent in Cairo in late August, I saw a total of one poster for Ayman Nour, the 40-year-old attorney and journalist who has emerged as Mubarak's main challenger. Mubarak's image, by contrast is inescapable--his face adorns buses, Nile riverboats, lampposts, and the entire facade of ruling party headquarters along the river.

Lest you think this is merely due to superior fund-raising techniques on the part of the incumbent, consider this, also from Hammer's article:

Voting is open to all Egyptians, as long as they registered by December 2004--two months before Mubarak called for the multiparty vote. By some estimates, 15 million Egyptians, many of whom have become excited about politics for the first time, have been disenfranchised. [emphasis added]

Well, that's one way to avoid long lines at the polling stations.

The article itself is well worth reading, and you can find it here (nb. that free registration may be required).

As Hammer notes, all is not lost: even if the result of the presidential election is, shall we say, easy to guess, there are multiparty parliamentary elections coming up at the end of the year. President Mubarak will likely win round #1 tomorrow, but hopefully he will find out that once people get used to seeing more than one name on a ballot, it is hard to go back to the "good old days".

All of this tends to support one of the principles that I think applies to states that are new and emerging democracies, and to states that wish they were: Multiparty elections are essential to a free and democratic society - but they are not, on their own, sufficient.

More later.


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