- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

President Bush yesterday pressed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to set an example for other Middle East nations by holding “free and fair” elections in September.

In a 10-minute phone call from the Oval Office, Mr. Bush urged Mr. Mubarak, 77, to move quickly on his pledge to establish democracy in the world’s largest Arab nation.

“I urged him once again to have as free and fair election as possible, because it will be a great legacy for his country,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the Oval Office after a meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

“He has publicly stated he’s for free and fair elections, and now is the time for him to show the world that his great country can set an example for others. He assured me that that’s just exactly what he wants to do. And I will, to the best of my ability, continue to try to convince him that it’s in not only Egypt’s interest, but the world’s interest, to see Egypt have free and fair elections.”

Mr. Bush also appeared pleased that Mr. Mubarak has asked his attorney general to investigate the beating of protesters during the vote last week on a referendum that cleared the way for Egypt’s first contested presidential election.

In Cairo yesterday, hundreds of black-clad men and women wearing white ribbons on their lapels gathered to protest the assault of several women during the referendum. Opposition demonstrators also were set upon and beaten by police and Mubarak supporters during a protest last month of new constitutional rules that limit the number of presidential candidates.

Although the Egyptian government downplayed as “emotional tension” the beating and groping of the women, some of which was caught on video, Mr. Bush criticized the clubbing of the protesters.

“Listen, the definition of free and fair, there’s international standards, of course, but people ought to be allowed to vote without being intimidated,” the president said. “People ought to be allowed to carry signs and express their displeasure or pleasure; people ought to have every vote count. And those seem like reasonable standards.”

Mr. Mubarak, who has served for 24 years through unchallenged yes-no referendums and is widely expected to run again, has touted the multicandidate presidential election as a major democratic reform. Critics, however, note that the constitution allows Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party a say over which challengers can run.

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