Saturday, November 6, 2004

In defense of Egypt

Where does one begin in addressing the fallacies and egregious assertions included in Nir Boms and Michael Meunier’s commentary? (“Reforms, freedom in Egypt,” Op-Ed, Thursday.)

There is ample evidence of the authors’ utter divorce from reality. To begin with, both President Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal Mubarak have issued repeated and adamant statements discounting the possibility of a dynastic succession in Egypt.

This has been reiterated on more than one occasion by a variety of public figures, and goes counter to both the constitution and the rule of law. Yet both authors insist that this will be the case. Either the authors have the ability to divine the future and are party to information no one else in the world is privy to, or they are simply plain wrong in this matter. Based on the litany of fallacies included in their article, the latter explanation is the more logical one.

Another glaring misrepresentation is their statement that the Hizb Al Ghad Party has been denied the right to participate in Egypt’s political system. In fact, the aforementioned party has recently received a license to operate in the political arena.

We also find that the authors’ statement that “The Copts (Christian Egyptians) face total exclusion by the government from political representation.” This is astonishing, since they ironically quote Mona Makram Ebeid, an Egyptian Christian, a former member of parliament, and a relative of Nadia Makram Ebeid, former minister of environmental affairs and a member of the newly established Hizb Al Ghad Party.

Further research on the part of the authors would have disclosed a long list of prominent Egyptian Christian ministers and public figures, including but not limited to the Minister of Foreign Trade Yousef Boutros Ghali.

Furthermore, they falsely assert that Christians need a permit directly from Mr. Mubarak to build churches, when in fact this practice has been revoked for many years.

Another indicator of the authors being totally off the mark is the assertion that the “Nubians of Egypt face ethnic and cultural warfare by the Egyptian government.” Nubians are considered an integral part of Egyptian society, and have never been looked at as a separate ethnic entity, but as part and parcel of a wider Egyptian identity.

The rights of Nubians, like those of all other members of Egyptian society, are equally guaranteed under the law, and Nubians have been well represented on all levels of life in Egypt.

In fact, had the authors bothered to back up their assertions with actual facts, they would have realized that many Egyptian public figures are Nubian, and that all Egyptians without exception take pride in the diversity and depth of their common identity.

Like President Ronald Reagan once said, “The facts are stubborn things,” and no amount of baseless assertions and wishful thinking on the part of the authors will change them.

The inclusion of so many fallacies and fantastic claims by both Messrs. Boms and Meunier makes their article a futile exercise in premeditated subjectivity and malicious disinformation of the worst kind.


Director, Egyptian Press and Information Office

Embassy of Egypt



The piece on political developments in Egypt (“Reforms, freedom in Egypt, Op-Ed, Thursday) is remarkably wrongheaded. Readers should be warned that this is a slanted, inaccurate account of the real situation there.

Egypt is indeed in transition. Economically, it is a “recovering” socialist state, moving slowly but surely from the Nasser model of total central planning to a Western-style market-driven system.

Agricultural reforms in recent years have been notably succcessful, and Egypt now is approaching self-sufficiency in food-grain production. Only a few years back it imported over 50 percent of its needs.

Import controls have been liberalized, and many previously state-owned industries privatized. The gross domestic product is growing, income per capita is rising and unemployment is falling.

AID, the World Bank and other donor groups all agree that real progress is being made. On the other hand, Egypt is still economically fragile since it is highly dependent on tourism, Suez Canal revenues and oil exports for the foreign exchange for its vital imports.

Egypt is not economically stagnant; it is progressive, but it badly needs another decade of stability to complete its reforms and transition.

Politically, Egypt is, indeed, for all practical purposes a one-party state. As the article notes, Egypt had a long history of parliamentary democracy before Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power. The dominant parties, the Wafd and others, had become so corrupt and ineffectual that most Egyptians gladly handed power over to Nasser and the “young officers” who promised reform.

The goal of reform was lost sight of in the years of “pan-Arabism,” wars with Israel, and Cold War politics. The rise of Muslim extremists, which for a time posed a real threat to the government, further complicated the political picture and led to a curtailment of some traditional civil liberties and freedoms.

Egypt well knows that the danger in suddenly allowing any and all parties to operate freely is that this gives a great advantage to small, well-organized and well-funded extremist groups anxious to destabilize the country and impose their own regime.

The National Democratic Party is a single party, but it is a big umbrella and contains many elements: the army, the civil service, moderate religious leaders and the leading businessmen. While not democratically chosen, it is broadly representative, all the same. All want some change but most of all stability, and there is no meaningful, organized opposition party that people can trust.

To rule effectively, President Mubarak’s successor must have the support of these NDP groups. Most, but not all, see Gamal Mubarak as a good choice, representing continuity but also a new, younger generation with new ideas. To many Egyptians, Gamal Mubarak represents the best hope for the future. They will make this choice, in their own way.

Finally, Messrs. Boms and Meunier raise the religious issue and write rubbish. The Coptic leaders and all other Egyptian Christians have protested in the past about well-meaning human-rights groups intervening on their behalf.

Such efforts do harm since they seem inherently anti-Muslim and frequently are. Egypt affords the Copts and other Christian groups more freedom and more state protection of that freedom than any country in the Middle East.

The NDP does not threaten the Copts, but some of the groups that would emerge in totally “free” elections might well attempt to stir up such latent hostilities for their own advantage.

In sum, Egypt is not a police state, any more than the United States with the Patriot Act in place is one. It is moving at its own pace and in line with its own history toward a more liberal, market-based economic and political system.

It has been a good friendto the United States and a rock of stability. We can only hope that it continues to be one, because a destabilized Egypt would have catastropic results for the whole region. Is that possibility worth the gamble of imposing, overnight, a multiparty system in order to please a handful of self-proclaimed “activists”?


Retired economics professor, Pennsylvaina State University

Former instructor at the Cairo Demographic Center


Stronger borders needed

Terence Jeffrey’s Commentary column, “Don’t ice the ICE reforms,” (Oct. 30) spells out clearly that our efforts to solve the problems caused by illegal immigrants will never be solved unless we expand our programs along the border and, just as important, within our country. Unless local police have the proper backup to deal with illegals, there is no point in their trying to follow our laws. We must also increase penalties for employers of illegals and follow through to make sure these employers actually pay up.


Forest, Va.

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