Mubarak and a peaceful transition to democracy in Egypt?

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President Mubarak has disappointed pro-democracy protesters in Egypt. Can democracy prevail, or will the nation descend into chaos? David Donovan comments.

In Egypt, President Mubarak has disappointed pro-democracy protesters in Cairo by declaring that he would stay on as President until September.

Mubarak says that an appropriate transition must be made so that the process is peaceful and in line with the Constitution.

He has handed over some of his powers to his deputy and established a Committee to oversee the process.

President Mubarak has been in power since 1981—he has had almost 30 years to install democracy into Egypt.

This move now is too little too late and protestors are justifiably furious. In the background looms the army—no-one knows which side they will take in this matter.

I went to Egypt in 1999 and spent a couple of weeks there on a typical package tour.

It was not that long after the 1997 Luxor massacre, where Islamic militants slaughtered 62 – mainly Swiss – tourists. The authorities were still notably cautious about any threats to the tourism industry during that time; when travelling to attractions, the buses often travelled in a convoy and were accompanied by police and checked frequently for weapons.

Site of the Luxor massacre

Having said that, the country did not give the impression of being a police state. It was a beautiful place, full of soul, life, history and colour. The people were friendly and courteous and the cities seemed vibrant and thriving, despite it obviously being rather a poor nation. As tourists, we were free to  do pretty much as we pleased and we all had an absolutely marvellous time.

Underneath this, though, there was the lingering impression that the people were not entirely happy. This was confirmed by our local guide, who told us stories about people who had stepped out of line with the administration being summarily imprisoned without trial. He also hinted about practices at these prisons. Looking back, I guess he may have been talking about the infamous secret police torture cells.

News filtering out about tortures and abuses are beginning to show thatMubarak's was a typically brutal and despotic middle-Eastern regime. Yet until recently, most of us have been largely unaware of this, pointing our fingers at other regimes, like Iran for instance. Why?

Well, to be cynical, Mubarak gained a lot of good press simply because he was a staunch supporter of the west, and the US and Israel in particular.

As US President Franklin D Roosevel (FDR) supposedly remarked in 1939 about notorious – and eventually assassinated – Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia, "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch".

Mubarak is another "son of a bitch".

The Egyptian people have been waiting a long time for freedom. They simply don't believe Mubarak is sincere in his statements about bringing democracy to the country—they think he is looking for breathing space while he plans ways to renew his grip on power.

They have 30 years of experience to back up their view.

In the end, if it all kicks off now and the country descends into chaos and outright revolution, Mubarak has only himself to blame—the people have waited long enough.

The problem is that in these situations it is all to common for the military to brutally take control of events and, rather than ending up with a transition to democracy, we end up with a strong-man General in charge—a new dictatorship, perhaps one even worse than the one it's replaced.

Independent Australia – Australia's journal of democracy – hopes that sanity prevails and at the end of this a new democratic nation will arise in Africa. We can only hope, pray and add our best wishes for our fellow democracy activists in Egypt.  
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