Wisner on Egypt in 2005: Mubarak would win 65% of the vote in a free election
This is the envoy Bush, I mean Obama, just sent to Egypt….listen to him in the heady days of 2005 here:
Were you surprised by President Mubarak’s speech over the weekend calling for a constitutional change to open up the presidential election process for the first time?
Yes, I was surprised, as I think many people were. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a very active political debate inside Egypt in recent weeks after the president announced he was going to stand for a fresh term in office. My own personal assumption was that any constitutional changes would occur after, not before, the election. So the timing of this revision of the constitution to provide for multi-candidate presidential polling came as somewhat of a surprise to me, but as I said, the ground was churning. We were headed in new directions for Egyptian politics.
What do you think is behind Mubarak’s decision? Internal unrest over the political system in Egypt? Democracy movements in other Arab countries?
I believe it’s a mixture of factors. Certainly one can’t discount the general move in the region towards freer elections, or the international environment which is arguing for greater democratic participation in Arab countries, or President Bush’s specific call for Egypt to take the lead in democracy in the region. Egypt, after all, has a political past that provided for substantial democratic participation. All of these are factors, plus the fact that this is clearly the last time President Mubarak will stand for re-election. His age is such that [Egypt] is clearly in a transition period, with something else to follow.
In Egypt, people have said that there hasn’t been democracy in Egypt in 5,000 years. Wasn’t there a functioning parliament there under the king, or am I mistaken?
If you look at democracy, or modern democratic governments, as systems with a free press, a strong judiciary, a sensible code of law, civil society institutions, parliaments, parties, and oppositions, and elections as a system for changing governments, then yes, that existed in Egypt through the 1920s, the 1930s, and the 1940s. The Egyptian system in those years, however, was locked in a self-destructive battle over politics, the monarchy, and the British presence.
In a rising tide of Arab nationalism, the defeat of Arabs at the hands of the new state of Israel brought matters to an end, and the army moved in 1952 to put an end to the structures of a participatory or democratic system. The king’s ouster was broadly welcomed by Egyptian society at the time, and he left, much unlamented, and the political parties, perceived as being corrupt and oligarchical, were swept aside. But there was a functioning political system, a political life, and varieties of political leaders in Egypt. One has to remember that Mubarak will run in this election after many, many decades of military or quasi-military rule. I can’t imagine today- and I know few Egyptians who can tell me- who the other candidates will be. There hasn’t been a culture to produce other strong political voices.
I believed, before Mubarak’s announcement, that in a totally open, free, contested presidential election, Mubarak would win by 65 percent of the vote. The political culture of Egypt is to vote for stability.”