Friday, January 27, 2006

Egypt on the move

By Ahmed Nazif
The Washington Times
January 27, 2006

Egypt recently held its first direct multi-candidate presidential election, competitive parliamentary elections, and saw the formation of a new government with many new young faces from its private sector. These were important political reform measures taken on the foundation of the independent judiciary, a free press, a multiparty political system and a vibrant civil society.
Demographics were the driving force that elevated the political reform process to new thresholds. Fifty-six percent of Egypt's population is 25 years or younger. However, the enabling factor was that Egypt had moved from a centrally managed economy to one in which the private sector generated more that 70 percent of the GDP, thus expanding the number of active stakeholders in its future.
President Hosni Mubarak was reelected with a mandate to undertake changes that empower parliament with greater oversight authority; achieve a greater balance of power between the executive and legislative bodies; further enhance the independence of the judiciary; provide for a better representation of women in parliament; strengthen civil liberties, including ending the state of emergency and the revision of the system of administrative detention.
In order to encourage even greater numbers of active stakeholders, Egypt's future efforts will focus on relinquishing greater authority to local government, liberalizing the media sector, enacting a new freedom of information act to enable citizens groups to more effectively hold government accountable over policies and decisions.
Over a period of four weeks last year, Egyptians went to the polls in a parliamentary election to vote in 444 new members of Parliament from more than 6,000 candidates of different affiliations. The elections brought in a new generation of politicians, with close to 70 percent of them being new faces, including a record number of independent members.
The election process was a success, although by no means free of a few small irregularities, with complaints registered in only 20 to 25 out of the 25,000 voting stations. These complaints have been acknowledged by both the president and the government, and Egypt's new parliament will be responsible for translating into concrete action the political initiatives envisaged in Mr. Mubarak's election platform, including a new election law to enhance representation of political parties and further reform our electoral system. It will also deal with economic and social initiatives, including upgraded education and health services.
Unfortunately, there are those in the United States who raise doubts and make allegations of politically motivated conspiracies because of the conviction of Ayman Nour, head of one of Egypt's opposition parties, on charges of forgery. Nothing could be further from the truth. The very fact that he was allowed to run and campaign freely, both in the presidential and parliamentary elections, refutes the claim of a politically motivated conspiracy.
For more than seven months, Mr. Nour has been provided due legal process with a fair, public trial, including proper legal counsel and the right to appeal his sentence. Those in the United States who are now calling for the Egyptian government to intervene in order to secure Mr. Nour's release, irrespective of the court's verdict against him, must realize that this contradicts the very basis of the rule of law and judicial independence that we seek to uphold as part of our reform process.
Egypt's reform agenda is ambitious and challenging. Nevertheless it will be pursued with conviction and determination because it defines our future.
Egypt was the first to build the foundations of a modern state in the Middle East and the pioneer of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Today, Egypt stands at the threshold of a monumental transformation with profound implications for her own future and indeed for that of the Middle East and beyond. I am confident that Egypt possesses the determination and leadership to carry the region into a new era of modernity as part of a global community.
Understandably, friends like the United States, or the European Union, are interested in Egypt's transformation. However, Egyptians and Middle Easterners alone must live their experiences, and continuously reset their own course as they build a better future for themselves, for their region, and thus for the world at large.
The United States and Egypt are both actively engaged in numerous global and regional issues which define the totality of their strong relationship. Our strategic partnership runs deep and has proven its worth. Together, we secured the liberation of Kuwait during the first Gulf war; launched the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo process; facilitated Israel's withdrawal from Gaza; and forged an American-Egyptian security relationship that has been vital in the war against terrorism.
It is short-sighted and self-defeating not to see the big picture which has served our two countries so well. Together, we will partner for peace, security and modernity in the Middle East and in our international community.

Ahmed Nazif is the prime minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

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