FRIDAY MARCH 26. 1993
Mubarak Should Call an Election
Hope was restored in the 1970s, after the Ramadan crossing of the Suez and the destruction of Israel's front line. The country woke up to find itself immersed in consumerist capitalism, a market for the West at the expense of local production. As consumer goods entered Egypt through the door opened by President Anwar Sadat, unwelcome Westernization in lifestyle and values tried to impose itself on local tradition. Against all of this, Islam, a -legitimate source of strength and identity, was the answer.
In the 1980s, the Islamic movement, -religious and political, spread throughout Egypt and the Arab world. It was inflamed by Israel's brutal response, with U.S. -support, to the Palestinian intifada, and by the humiliating and divisive Gulf War, -executed by the United States on behalf of -according to Arabs- the Zionist agenda. These two events dramatized the double standard in U.S. policy -perpetrating atrocities against Arabs and rejecting their rights while rewarding Israel and its repression with millions of dollars. The Islamic movement grew, both as resistance to Israel's occupation and human rights violations and as political opposition to regimes that submit to the West's dominance and brutalize their own people. Where the movement sought to consolidate and participate in the democratic process, as in Algeria, a total arrest of the democratic process was the response.
When Mubarak took office after Sadat's assassination, he made a promise to the Egyptian people of instituting democratic presidential elections. A decade later, he had not only reneged on his promise but also added insult to injury by instituting himself as president for life.
Egypt's economy is primarily tourism and consumerism, rather than local production, industrialization and services. Islamic groups provide much of the emergency, social and medical services that the state ought to provide its citizens. In turn, the Islamic movement gains ever more popular support.
Today, Egyptians live in terror, caught between those who want to remove Mubarak and Mubarak's ruthless response to them. Prisons are filled with those who oppose his regime, all of their rights violated. One lesson from Sadat's assassination is that leaders cannot remain in power relying on support by the United States. They must earn the support of their own people. This is especially the case at a time when Muslims face mass rape and genocide in the former Yugoslavia, when Hindus are rampaging against Muslims in India and when U.S. policy shows not one iota of sensitivity or respect to Islam.
The Mubarak government's recent massacre of Muslims during worship in Aswan and the subsequent bloody roundups of "the usual suspects" throughout Egypt are extremist acts of desperation reminiscent of Sadat's mass crackdown on political dissidence in the months before his assassination.
A smart move by Mubarak would be to immediately institute a free, democratic election process for president, open to candidates from all the legal opposition parties. Then, when he steps down, he will have saved Egypt from chaos and restored it as the pioneer in democratic reform and leadership in the Arab world.
Fadwa El Guindi
is an anthropologist specializing in the Middle East who has published
on the Islamic movement in Egypt. She is Senior Research Anthropologist
at El Nil Research and teaches at UCLA.
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