Friday, March 18, 2005

Mubarak, Article 76, and the Predicament of Court Rhapsodists

Since February 26, pundits both pallid and profound, at home and abroad, have weighed in on the meaning of President Mubarak's announcement calling for amending Article 76 of the 1971 Constitution to allow for direct, multi-candidate presidential elections. Far be it from me to add to the breathless acres of print on the subject; insta-commentary is the last thing we need, and some silent observation and reflection are long overdue.

But I can't help pointing to Abdel-Moneim Said's latest eruption in al-Ahram Weekly, a pitiful face-saving maneuver if ever there was one. One of the Mubarak regime's loyal house intellectuals, Said had only three weeks previously pronounced the Egyptian presidency's staggering powers "a result of the centralism of the Egyptian state since Mena unified the northern and southern parts of the country 5,000 years ago." Pity the rest of the third-rate court Brahmins, who tripped over themselves to pen elegiac odes to Mubarak's about-face. The ever-resourceful Osama El-Ghazali Harb informed us that Mubarak's move "could be the greatest historical achievement in Egypt's modern history," while the unfailingly deferential Hala Mustafa decided that February 26 is the real start-date of "comprehensive political reform." Lo and behold, the Said-Harb-Mustafa troika are card-carrying members of the ruling National Democratic Party's "Higher Council for Policies", the premier member of which is Gamal Mubarak.

While Said et al were cooking up such palaver from the plush comfort of their well-appointed, taxpayer-funded offices, Abdel Halim Qandil, editor of the hardscrabble Nasserist Weekly al-Araby (Egypt's boldest newspaper), produced another of his trenchant pieces in the 13 March edition puncturing all the blather surrounding the issue. Regarding the apparent requirement that any "serious" presidential candidate garner the support of members of parliament and local councils, Qandil opined:

It's a requirement that confiscates the desideratum: these legislative bodies are all rigged or of a disputed constitutional status, and almost all of them are under the administration and control of something called the "National Democratic Party"...And the amusing thing is that they speak of the French constitution and borrowing the idea of a parliamentary endorsement from the French system. They want to borrow the French constitution without France, which has complete liberties and elections that are fair to the utmost degree, whereas in Egypt there is general repression and elections that are guaranteed to be rigged to the utmost degree. In France, there is neither Safwat al-Sherif nor Kamal al-Shazli, nor that empire of fear-mongering called "State Security Investigations" (mabaheth amn al-dawla); there is no quashing of the dignity of citizens as if they are remnants of subjects, no father-son parallel presidency, no state-monopolized media obsessed with tracking the comings and goings of the blessed family.