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February 26, 2005
Democracy's New March On Cairo, Led By ... Mubarak?

One day after Condoleezza Rice snubbed Hosni Mubarak by cancelling a long-planned trip to Cairo in protest of the arrest of a leading activist for democracy, Hosni Mubarak has unexpectedly reversed course. He proclaimed his support today for the first multi-party elections for president since he took over for Anwar Sadat after the latter's assassination in 1981:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a revision of the country's election laws and said multiple candidates could run in the nation's presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak hasn't faced since taking power in 1981.

The surprise announcement, a response to critics' calls for political reform, comes shortly after historic elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, balloting that brought a taste of democracy to the region. It also comes amid a sharp dispute with the United States over Egypt's arrest of one of the strongest proponents of multi-candidate elections.

"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.

Mubarak who has never faced an opponent since becoming president after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat said his initiative came "out of my full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy."

The audience before him at Menoufia University broke into applause and calls of support, some shouting, "Long live Mubarak, mentor of freedom and democracy!" Others spontaneously recited verses of poetry praising the government.

Once again, we see the transformative power of democracy and the fulfillment of the so-called "neocon" philosophy of security through democratization. Egypt has produced some of the most radical -- and dangerously Westernized -- terrorists of the past generation, including Ayman al-Zwahiri, al-Qaeda's number two under Osama bin Laden. With the ability to express political dissent through the ballot box instead of the bomb, Egypt's moves hold the promise of defusing one of the main intellectual producers of terror in the region,

Some will credit Mubarak himself, who defended and promoted the Palestinian elections of last month as a means to peace in Southwest Asia. However, without the pressure that the free elections of Iraq and Afghanistan provided, the peoples of the region would not have organized for their own opportunity for self-determination. Mubarak is smart enough to get ahead of the curve, while Bashar Assad and the Iranian mullahs sit uneasily in Damascus and Teheran hoping that the entire movement dies down before toppling them from power.

Even American critics in the area recognize who started the momentum:

Activist Aida Seif el-Dawla was tentative in her praise.

"This concession is made to the United States of America. It is better for him (Mubarak) if this decision came as a result of the national dialogue with the opposition parties and in response to the protests against the law," she said. "Let us wait and see, because a free campaign of more than one candidate requires more than a statement from the president."

Perhaps in a perfect world, el-Dawla may have a point. However, without knocking down the first few dominoes, the rest of the string remains upright, and so it is with tyrannies. A wave of democratization appears ready to roll across Southwest Asia as a result of American action in Iraq and Afghanistan, which promises a freer and more rational world than the one Saddam and his henchmen had planned.

The question will be how the American media can cover this without having to credit American policy in the region. Can CNN and the New York Times ignore free Egyptian elections? We'll see.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 26, 2005 11:07 AM

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