This weekend, Egyptians will go to the polls—and few of their votes will be counted. The country's elections are, after all, a pseudo-democratic façade carefully choreographed to appease the regime’s Western benefactors. For that reason, Egyptian electoral outcomes are mostly expressions of the regime’s political interests at a particular moment in time.
A vivid report by Ashraf Khalil in Friday’s Wall Street Journal and an AP dispatch on the same day evoke a moribund Egyptian politics coming to life because of the death of a 28-year old in Alexandria. The murder—and it was a murder!—was committed by the police. Out in the open or, to be precise, down the alley from an internet cafe out of which Khaled Saieed was dragged. Saieed’s face was shown on web sites, and the image was not pretty: a battered face and broken teeth. The police attributed his death to resisting arrest. Of course. Not surprisingly: ‘We are all afraid for our children.
On the surface, it seems as if tomorrow's Egyptian elections will be a dreary formality. Although the official campaigning period for the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament, has been going for two weeks, the streets of Cairo are noticeably silent. The only overt evidence of political gamesmanship is the paraphernalia of the ruling party’s candidates plastered in the city’s central squares. Campaigns here tend to be lackluster because they don't usually matter.
These did not reach the intensity of the 100 hours war in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador which was also over fought over World Cup soccer matches. After all, in that war, according to John Signoriello, 900 El Salvadoran troops and civilians met their maker and 100 Honduran combat troops plus 2,000 (!) just ordinaries met theirs. TNR's editor, Frank Foer, narrates many other such violent episodes in his book, How Soccer Explains the World, which is itself amazing. But the Arab soccer wars are nothing to laugh about.
CAIRO-- "I have traces of torture everywhere on my body," says Ayman Nour. Late on a smoldering hot afternoon, Nour is sitting in his well-cooled living room on the top floor of a Zamalek apartment building, surrounded by a display of fine antique furniture and elegant classical art. An oversized painting on one wall features a gaggle of Egyptian politicians, including Nour, outside the national parliament, where Nour served until his arrest and imprisonment by Hosni Mubarak in 2005.
CAIRO-- It's a taboo subject in Egypt, one that can get you arrested simply for mentioning. But speculation over the health of the country's 81-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak, is a popular Cairo parlor game. And on the eve of Barack Obama's visit here, it again hangs in the air like smoke in a shisha cafe. In a prelude to his Cairo visit, Barack Obama had planned to host Hosni Mubarak at the White House late last month.
The Vicar of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI, met on Friday with Amr Moussa, a diplomatic hooligan whom Hosni Mubarak put out to pasture, this pasture being the Arab League, without power, without influence, without even any cachet. The news, brought to us by the A.P.'s Frances d'Emilio, tells us something about the lack of reality in the foreign policy of the Holy See.
Earlier today, I posted here a note about Hosni Mubarak and his refusal to press the government of Sudan to allow the UN to join African Union forces in Darfur. No surprise here. No, none. No surprise either about another dispatch, this one by Michael Slackman in Sunday's Times, reporting that the Egyptian electorate will be asked to certify 34 amendments to the country's constitution that will greatly expand the power of the presidency. Mubarak has been president for 26 years, re-elected by proportions that would have pleased Comrade Stalin.
A few months ago, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak agreed to take over the policing and prevention of arms smuggling from the Sinai to Gaza. He did take it over. But the smuggling only increased, and it is now epidemiological. Mubarak may have had good intentions. He does not want Hamas to rule over Gaza and destabilize his country's relationship with Israel. But what he wants doesn't much constrain the Palestinian militias or the smugglers in the Sinai, perhaps Muslim Brotherhood fanatics, to desist.
If you buy this reading of events, you must accept a certain irony. It is fashionable in some quarters to say that U.S. identification with Israel produces hostility against us in the Islamic world. But, in actuality, Israel may be paying a price for the U.S.-led effort to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. Those who view the Israeli offensive in Lebanon as counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy miss an emerging reality: Iran is waging a struggle to achieve regional dominance that threatens the United States and all its friends in the Middle East.