Mubarak invincible - even in a real election

IN THE small Nile Delta town of Damanhur last week, a small crowd had collected to watch a middle-aged man in a long, flowing galabaya, sitting in the back of a white pick-up truck. They applauded dutifully as he crooned compliments to President Hosni Mubarak through a microphone.

This tepid gathering was part of the government campaign to stir up interest in today's referendum, in which Egyptians must decide whether to give Mr Mubarak a fourth term that would put him in office for another six years.

Vast flags have been unfurled from many of Cairo's high-rise buildings, fairy lights hang outside government offices, and portraits of Mr Mubarak plaster the city - many of them depicting a man much younger than the president's 71 years.

Banners hung over the streets proclaim "Yes to Mubarak", and posters declare sycophantically: "With you, we'll realise our hopes and our dreams." Pro-government rallies - mainly attended by state employees - have been held all over the country.

Anyone would think the result was in doubt, but in June the parliament, dominated by Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party, rejected four other would-be candidates. Today's referendum has been described by officials as "a day of loyalty to the leader".

The curious aspect is that President Mubarak might well be able to win a real election. Over the past few years, the Egyptian economy has prospered. A stepped-up privatisation campaign has created a new, moneyed class that enjoys mobile phones and Mercedes, even though the gap between Egypt's rich and poor has widened as a result. The state seems to be winning the violent struggle against the radical Islamists who killed Mr Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, and have tried several times to assassinate him as well, most spectacularly in Addis Ababa four years ago.

A heavy security campaign, during which thousands of Muslim radicals were detained and sometimes tortured, has helped to bring back the tourists. They had been driven away by the attack in November 1997 when 58 visitors were massacred outside a temple in Luxor.

Though the country continues to struggle with population growth, unemployment and lack of housing; many graduates cannot find proper work and civil servants drive taxis at night to make ends meet. But President Mubarak is, for the most part, well-liked by ordinary Egyptians. People like Ali Muhammad Tahar, 68, from the southern town of Aswan, see him as steady and unassuming. "King Farouk, President Nasser and President Sadat, I've seen them all," he said. "There's no one better than Mubarak."

Even Egypt's enfeebled opposition is hard put to criticise the president personally. The West sees him as a key figure in the Middle East peace process, while international financial institutions have lauded his policy of privatisation. And he has no obvious successor.

Mr Mubarak has ruled Egypt under emergency law since Sadat's assassination in 1981, sticking to his predecessor's 1979 peace treaty with Israel despite strong opposition from Islamists. For most of the 1990s he has been fighting a renewed campaign to replace his government with Islamic rule, in which secular writers and intellectuals have been targeted as well as security officials.

At least 1,000 people died in the five years from 1992, many of them Islamists killed by the army. Earlier this month Mr Mubarak was attacked with a penknife by a street vendor while on a visit to Port Said. The man was instantly shot down.

The Islamist threat seems to have waned, but after 18 years, many Egyptians - particularly younger and more educated ones - want change. "Mubarak is a father to the Egyptian people, not just a president," said a 24-year old student. "But the problem with a father is that you're stuck with him for life, for better or for worse."

Decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt have, however, resulted in political apathy. Parties based on religion are banned, and the activities of secular opposition groups carefully circumscribed. Two military vehicles were parked outside the headquarters of a left-wing opposition party in central Cairo on Wednesday, where a rally to demand political reform attracted barely a couple of hundred people. Empty seats and polite clapping greeted speaker after grey-haired speaker - most of them septuagenarians like Mr Mubarak.

"Ordinary people don't see how they can possibly influence the politics of the country," explained Muhammad El-Sayed Saeed, a human rights activist participating in the meeting. "They have no access to the instruments of change. It's time to break this tradition in the Arab world of having presidents for life. The whole idea of a referendum is absurd."

Mr Mubarak has promised greater democratisation, but said in the same breath that "democracy is not a thing to be given all at once". Certainly not much will be on offer today. "Mubarak is the only candidate, and he will get 99 per cent of the vote, like he does every time," says Muhammad Abdul Qadus, a moderate Islamist. "Even God wouldn't get a 99 per cent rating."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?