- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

‘New era’ in Egypt

Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy is convinced that the unprecedented multiparty presidential election in his country marks a “new era in Egyptian politics.”

Mr. Fahmy, who returned to Washington earlier this month after flying home to cast his ballot and observe the voting, said, “I can attest to the fact the Egypt’s first direct multi-candidate presidential election is indeed historical in its impact on political life in Egypt.”

Although Hosni Mubarak won 88.5 percent of the vote in his quest for another six-year term, he faced political opponents for the first time in his 24 years as president. His earlier elections were uncontested referendums.

Pro-democracy advocates complained about some irregularities, but many agreed that the Sept. 7 election put Egypt on an irreversible course toward more open government.

Mr. Fahmy, in a written review of the election, said, “While the elections held in Egypt … were by no means perfect, there is no denying that they ushered in a new era in Egyptian politics.”

The ambassador conceded he was disappointed in the low turnout of 23 percent of Egypt’s 32 million registered voters.

“Egyptians would have been better served if they had overcome their skepticism toward politics and exercised their right and duty to participate in this historic event,” Mr. Fahmy said.

The ambassador insisted that the elections were fairer than some critics claimed.

“Every national election in history, everywhere in the world has been the subject of allegations of irregularities; and there probably have been some in this case as well. The Egyptian Election Commission will render the definitive determination in this regard,” he said.

Mr. Fahmy noted that the contested election forced Mr. Mubarak to campaign nationwide and make specific campaign promises that voters can monitor. Mr. Mubarak promised “sweeping political changes” that will make the presidency more responsible to the parliament, now dominated by Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

“He also promised to introduce reforms that would ensure broader political party representation in all elected bodies and would consolidate the representation of women in these bodies, as well as strengthen the concept of local government and further the process of decentralizing decision-making and checking the powers of the president,” Mr. Fahmy said.

In another development, two members of Mr. Mubarak’s Cabinet are in Washington to explain his plans for further economic reform to attract foreign investment.

Finance Minister Yousef Boutros-Ghali and Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieldin today will brief invited guests at the American Enterprise Institute on those economic programs.

AEI specialists expect to question the ministers on whether Egypt plans to privatize its largely state-run economy and whether Mr. Mubarak will deliver on his campaign promises.

Caspian naval power

The United States thinks the key to protecting the vast energy resources in the Caspian Sea is to improve the naval power of former Soviet republics along its coastline, said the U.S. ambassador in Azerbaijan.

Ambassador Reno Harnish told Agence France-Presse that Washington plans to spend $135 million to help Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan modernize their coast guards. The United States already has invested $30 million to help Azerbaijan upgrade radar systems and improve personnel training and ship repair.

“Only recently have we started to see that we need both of them to cooperate to make this thing work,” he said, referring to the two countries.

“We’ve mentioned this to the government of Azerbaijan, and we’re working on it. It’s a work in progress.”

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have an estimated 37 million barrels of oil in their sectors of the Caspian Sea.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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