News Analysis

For decades, some would say centuries, Egyptians have suffered under autocracy and have yearned for freedom’s sun to rise.

President Hosni Mubarak, who came to power in the wake of the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, has perpetuated this tradition by maintaining an absolute grip on power for 24 years. But this year Mubarak found himself under pressure from civil rights groups, opposition parties and reform movements like Kefaya (meaning “Enough!” in Arabic) and was forced to offer an amendment to the constitution to allow more than one candidate to run for the presidency.

The proposed amendment was far less than what people yearned for. In a May referendum on the measure, most would-be voters stayed away from the polls, saying the amendment reflected merely cosmetic changes or worse. Some argued it would reinforce autocratic rule, given that the law prevents real opposition parties and leaders from running for the office unless they are endorsed by the dictator himself and his party.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators from all walks of political life gathered in major cities to protest the proposed amendment. They were met with repression. In a new twist, plainclothes security forces instituted a new reality in Mubarak’s dark era: public torture and public rape. No longer confined to hidden detention centers, these crimes were committed by security personnel in broad daylight, according to numerous eyewitness accounts.

On Sept. 7, Egypt witnessed its first-ever presidential election. Mubarak ran for a fifth six-year term against nine little-known candidates. All real opposition leaders were denied the right to run for the presidency.

Once again, Egyptians boycotted the polls in big numbers. According to the electoral commission’s report, only 23 percent of the 32 million registered voters went to polling stations. Of those who did vote, independent civil rights groups and eyewitnesses reported they saw voter intimidation, bribes, the denial of access to other candidates’ representatives to oversee the voting process inside polling stations and, last but not least, ballot-stuffing in support of Mubarak.

Government officials now speak of “a historic election” with few abuses and a “new era” in Egyptian history. On the other hand, the vast majority of people are disappointed, angry and on the verge of civil disobedience, saying that the regime violated their will.

Mubarak has proven that he is willing to stay in power regardless of the people’s will and the nation’s welfare. He knows that Egypt is sliding into chaos, that people are fed up with his ruinous economic and security policies, and that there is widespread resentment against his corrupt family, including his son, who is being groomed to succeed him.

However, Mubarak has shown that he simply does not care.