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September 5, 2005
Egypt Bans Poll Monitors

In a setback to the momentum of democracy in the Middle East, the Mubarak regime has banned independent poll monitors from its upcoming presidential elections. The first-ever multiparty campaign had appeared to give Egyptians some hope of a fair poll -- and still might -- but with Mubarak supplying the only certification, the results will certainly come under fire:

Egypt's electoral commission says it will not allow independent groups to monitor Wednesday's presidential election, defying a court ruling.

The commission said only supervisors, candidates and their representatives would be allowed in polling stations.

The decision has fuelled fears of vote rigging in the country's first multi-candidate presidential poll.

Mubarak and the Egyptian government might claim that the fact of having the elections at all shows a commitment to democratization and the rule of law. The pressure placed on his regime for reform, especially that of Condoleezza Rice which immediately preceded his surprise decision to allow multiparty elections, had more to do with the offer, as the rule of law also appears to have a low priority:

On Saturday, the Egyptian judiciary overruled a ban by the government-appointed commission prohibiting local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from monitoring the poll.

But the electoral commission chief, Osama Attawiyah, told the BBC that the ban would remain in force.

CQ readers thinking of election monitors as Jimmy Carter wannabes may shrug their shoulders at this news. After all, Carter's track record of election monitoring has produced little but support for socialist regimes. However, election monitors proved critical in Ukraine when the Kuchma government tried to foist Viktor Yanukovych onto the country in a fraudulent poll. The composition of the outside observers have a great deal to do with the eventual quality of the result, but to keep them out altogether more than suggests a cover-up. It practically guarantees one.

All of this seems curious for Mubarak. Despite his long era of autocratic rule over Egypt, he retains some domestic popularity. His dictatorship has not been as complete or as brutal as others in the region, such as Moammar Gaddafi, who rest rather easy on their thrones. Indications thus far from outside observers predicted a fairly easy win for Mubarak regardless of any shenanigans, as his opposition has had almost no time to organize.

Banning observers would, in this case, have the potential to do more damage to Mubarak than anyone else. As in Ukraine, holding elections doesn't destabilize the country, but throwing elections undermines authority and emboldens the masses. Leonid Kuchma found out the hard way (although not the hardest way) that when holding elections, massive cheating winds up terribly counterproductive. Mubarak should take a lesson from the recent history of election fraud and rethink this decision, for his own good.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 5, 2005 11:19 AM

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