Egypt's Mubarak Orders Election Reform
By MAAMOUN YOUSSEF
Associated Press Writer
February 26, 2005, 9:05 AM EST
CAIRO, Egypt -- 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
"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
Mubarak said he asked parliament and the Shura Council
to amend Article 76 of the constitution, which deals
with presidential elections. Mohammed Kamal, a leading
member of the ruling party's policy-making committee,
said parliament would propose its amendment within two
Mubarak said the amendment would then be put to a
public referendum before the presidential polls, which
are scheduled for September. Kamal said he expected
the referendum to be held within nine weeks.
As recently as last month Mubarak had rejected
opposition demands to open presidential balloting to
other candidates, and he was obviously aware of the
historic potential of his announcement.
"If it happens, it would be the first time in the
political history of Egypt that a chance is given to
somebody who is capable of shouldering the
responsibility to protect the people's achievements
and future security to come forward for presidential
elections with parliamentary and popular support," he
Egypt holds presidential referendums every six years
in which people vote "yes" or "no" for a single
candidate who has been approved by parliament. Mubarak
has been nominated by his ruling National Democratic
Party to stand in four presidential referendums,
winning more than 90 percent of the vote each time.
Mubarak has not officially announced his candidacy for
a fifth term, though he is widely expected to be
nominated by his ruling party.
Several opposition leaders have demanded that Mubarak
amend the constitution to let more than one candidate
compete for the presidency. In recent meetings between
opposition groups and the government, it was agreed
that an amendment would be discussed after September's
presidential referendum, making Mubarak's announcement
even more surprising.
The move also comes amid a dispute between Egypt and
the United States over the recent detention of an
Ayman Nour, head of the Al-Ghad Party, was detained
Jan. 29 on allegations of forging nearly 2,000
signatures to secure a license for his party last
year. He has rejected the accusation, and human rights
groups have said his detention was politically
The prosecutor general has denied that charge.
His detention has been strongly criticized by
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Rice canceled
a Mideast visit that had been planned for next week, a
decision believed to be in protest of Nour's
Hafez Abu Saada, director of the Egyptian Organization
for Human Rights, praised Mubarak's "unexpected step,"
which he said reflected local, regional and
"It is an important step that gives the Egyptian
society a strong push for more freedom and democracy,"
Activist Aida Seif el-Dawla was tentative in her
"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