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Editorial

'Kifaya' in Egypt

Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page A22

AYMAN NOUR, the Egyptian opposition leader jailed in January while campaigning for democratic reform, is free on bail. Having angered President Hosni Mubarak by calling for a democratic presidential election this year, Mr. Nour can now launch his own candidacy under a constitutional reform the 76-year-old autocrat abruptly announced two weeks ago. It's too early, however, to anticipate a Cairo Spring. Mr. Mubarak's proposed reform, like his release of Mr. Nour, is an act of minimalism intended to deflect domestic and international pressure. The Bush administration, which played an important role in obtaining Mr. Nour's freedom, should join the Egyptian democrats who are telling the regime that its concessions aren't sufficient.

"Enough," or "kifaya" in Arabic, has become the slogan and informal moniker of the Egyptian Movement for Change, which has been holding groundbreaking demonstrations in Cairo. The word is an all-purpose message to Mr. Mubarak: enough of dictatorship; enough of a presidency that has endured 24 years and that would be extended by six if Mr. Mubarak chooses to present himself for reelection; enough of the president's maneuvering to place his son Gamal in position to succeed him. The opposition coalition, which includes Mr. Nour's Tomorrow Party as well as nationalist and Islamist groups, offers a moderate list of demands, including the lifting of emergency laws that prevent free assembly, liberalization of restrictions on the formation of political parties and newspapers, and the release of the thousands of political prisoners Mr. Mubarak still holds.

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Though the platform calls for Mr. Mubarak to forgo another term, most of the opposition is prepared to accept a new mandate provided the president commits himself to genuine change. So far, however, Mr. Mubarak's concessions are limited to his election plan, which resembles the sham balloting familiar from other dictatorships. Only candidates from the handful of officially approved political parties will be eligible to take part; others will need the signatures of 762 public officials, most of them members of Mr. Mubarak's own party. There is no provision for international or independent judicial monitoring of the vote, even though past Egyptian elections have been discredited by reports of fraud. Mr. Nour himself might not, in the end, get on the ballot: The bogus criminal case against him still proceeds, and one of the president's longtime associates, Osama Baz, told The Post's Daniel Williams that Mr. Nour would be indicted.

While aggressively campaigning for freedom in Lebanon, the Bush administration continues to gently prod Mr. Mubarak. In a speech last week devoted mostly to Lebanon, President Bush included one sentence saying that credible elections must include "freedom of assembly, multiple candidates, free access by those candidates to the media and the right to form political parties." In addition, the administration has -- at long last -- announced that it will provide funding to six independent Egyptian civil society groups, including one that hopes to monitor the upcoming elections. But gentleness doesn't seem to be working. Mr. Mubarak's foreign minister publicly ridiculed Mr. Bush's speech and rejected his prescriptions. That suggests something about the level of pressure Mr. Bush has so far exerted on a ruler who has received more than $50 billion in U.S. subsidies during his time in office: It's not enough.


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