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Volume Three Winter 2003-Spring 2004 Numbers 3-4.
EGYPT’s DEMOCRACY: CAN REFORM OVERCOME THE NEED FOR SECURITY?
Mohamed A. El-Khawas
Department of Urban Affairs and Social Sciences
University of the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C. 20008
Published online: February 10, 2017
For years, President Hosni Mubarak has walked a fine line between implementing reforms and dealing with threats posed by militant Islamists. Shortly after coming to office, he was encouraged by both domestic groups and external powers to liberalize Egypt’s political system. He was in a good position to do so because, following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, major opposition parties and civil society organizations had rallied behind the new president. It was a unique moment: he promised to promote democracy and opposition parties committed themselves to working within the system to reform the political process. In the 1980s, Mubarak took several steps to “open” the political system, allowing new opposition parties to be formed and giving the press greater freedom to comment on government policies. In the following decade, however, many challenges at home led him to progressively tighten controls. Since that time, he has become more concerned about the country's stability and security rather than political reform. This stance has delayed and prolonged the democratization process, with no end in sight.
This article examines the democratization process in Egypt over the past two decades. Egypt is chosen as a case study in part because Mubarak claims that his country is the most democratic in the region and that any changes will have to come from within. Another factor is that he represents the region’s old leadership, which tries to strike a balance between democratic reforms and stability in the face of challenges from militant Islamist groups. He prefers to play it safe and is in no hurry to increase the pace toward full democracy.
The study assesses the progress that Egypt has made toward democracy and highlights some of the key problems Mubarak has encountered. It addresses the nature of the multiparty system, the judiciary, and the role of civil society organizations in promoting democracy. It also assesses the impact of the war in Iraq on Egypt’s transformation and, finally, considers the problem of succession, which is on the minds of many Egyptians.