Whoa. Egyptian President Husni Mubarak just declared
that he was going to hold multi-candidate presidential elections—very good news indeed! (Previously, only one candidate was selected by parliament and then the public got to vote 'yay' or 'nay'.)
The key, of course, will be to see whether he lets everyone
run, or whether parliament can still screen candidates they don't like. The Muslim Brotherhood, the massive and massively popular mainstream Islamist
group, is still banned from politics. I'd expect that to be the key debate in the coming months—and here's an old and rather anguished post
on why, even though it might be terrible, Mubarak should let the Islamists run.
Two things to add though. First, I still don't believe Mubarak has genuine reform in mind: it looks an awful lot like he's planning to hold semi-free elections merely to appease the opposition and get their minds off rebellion. One of the things learned from Iraq is that even imperfect elections can deflate a lot of anger—at least in the short term. So the Bush administration, which can take credit for this if they'd like, ought to keep up the pressure for more reform. Second thing to add, both Issandr el-Amrani
and Jonathan Edelstein
think Mubarak would win even in a completely free and fair election, since "the incumbent president, even if unpopular, nearly always wins the first multi-party election due to logistical and administrative advantages." So in that case...MORE:
In a related vein, see Amr Hamzawy's briefing
on Egypt: "Government reform policies stop short of introducing substantial changes into the political power structure and the restrictive patterns of political participation prevailing in the country. Government officials have a good command of democracy-based rhetoric and know how to celebrate cosmetic changes as if they were major events on the road to democratization."