Mubarak secures fourth term as Egypt’s president




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 28 September 1999

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was yesterday returned to office for a further six years after a referendum approved his appointment by parliament.

However, there were calls too for an end to the tight political controls that assured his uncontested victory.

Official figures put the turnout at 84 per cent and the vote for Mr Mubarak at nearly 94 per cent. He was the sole candidate considered by parliament, which is dominated by the National Democratic party. Mr Mubarak became president following the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. The referendum exposed the extent of political stagnation in Egypt, following seven years of economic reforms which have by contrast brought a degree of transparency and dynamic private sector growth.

Suggestions that the referendum will be followed soon by an extensive cabinet reshuffle have led to speculation that Mr Mubarak intends to use his new term to build on the stability his policies have brought by relaxing government control on political activity.

“I hope for more democracy, more civil society, an end to the emergency law, younger people in power, and a vice-president,” said Sadd Eddin Ibrahim, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo. At 71, Mr Mubarak has been under pressure to name a vice-president. He recently denied grooming his younger son, Gamal, for the post.

Mr Mubarak, former head of the Egyptian air force, recently indicated he was planning reforms to allow more popular participation in public life, provided this did not harm “the nation’s supreme interest”.

The government has slowly been addressing demands from non-governmental organisations for the state to allow the expansion of civil society. Meanwhile, Maher Abdel Wahed,the newly appointed attorney general, has been applauded even in the Islamist-oriented press for pursuing corruption cases against ruling party parliamentarians and moving towards a faster and fairer justice system.

Nevertheless emergency laws introduced in the wake of Mr Sadat’s assassination are still in force. They give the security forces wide powers to confront the activities of Islamic fundamentalist groups while also denying the legal opposition the chance to offer a credible and robust political alternative to the Islamists.

Pressure for political reform has been undermined in part by the lacklustre performance of the leading opposition political parties. The ruling NDP and its parliamentary allies control 416 seats, compared with 14 in the hands of the opposition. The NDP’s grip on parliament, which assured Mr Mubarak of his nomination, is repeated across the country, where it operates as the effective party of state.

But Mr Mubarak’s fourth term has begun at a time of a receding threat from the Islamist militant groups. Equally, economic growth of around 5 per cent has created the promise of an easing of acute social pressures which had led to support for Islamist groups. The changing political climate is now raising expectations that an easing of social controls will follow.


© Financial Times