May 10, 2005



SUBJECT: Half Measures in Egypt

According to press reports, Egypt’s parliament is likely to pass a constitutional amendment today that would allow opposition figures to run for president. This apparent democratic breakthrough, however, is undermined by the amendment’s stipulation that to be placed on a presidential ballot a candidate would need the approval of 300 members from various “elected” Egyptian government bodies – bodies now under the control of the sitting president, Hosni Mubarak.

The decision by Egypt to take this half measure is the result of pressure put on President Mubarak by President Bush and Secretary of State Rice. But it is only a half measure, and one that will lead to even more frustration and political instability in Egypt if it remains so. Administration officials and members of Congress would do well to send President Mubarak and his government a signal that American foreign aid (currently about $2 billion/year) is contingent on their doing more to open up the Egyptian political process.

Some are concerned that a truly open election will encourage the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood. We agree that is a concern. But, unless we expect Mubarak and his son to hold on to power indefinitely – despite all the corruption, dysfunctionalism, and anger his rule engenders in Egypt itself – this is a risk supporters of democracy must take. And this risk is more manageable now in the context of progress toward democracy rather than later, in the context of increased popular resentment and civic frustration.