Freedom spreading the Arab world


The Los Angeles Times, no friend of the Bush administration, is acknowledging that the winds of freedom are blowing throughout the Arab world, and it is because of President Bush's leadership.

At a time when security forces are battling to quash anti—Mubarak demonstrations across the country, an uprising in one of the cornerstones of the Egyptian regime presents a prospect more chilling than any street demonstration. The judges' demand is a symptom of a new, unpredictable energy that has seized Egyptian politics after decades of stagnation — and of the popular discontent snowballing in the region.

"We guess that this is our chance," said Assam Abdel Gabbar, an Alexandria judge who sits on Egypt's court of appeals, "and we don't believe it will come again anytime soon."

The judges, who are beholden to the executive branch for everything, from their job assignments to the size of their salaries, are demanding that judicial law be reformed to place courts out of reach of the president's authority. They say that in the past they have certified election results but now they want complete oversight over voting this fall.

For the first time in decades, Egyptians have been promised a field of candidates to choose from, in place of past referendums in which Mubarak was the only choice.

The judges acknowledge they are taking advantage of pressure already bearing down on Mubarak's 24—year—old regime. The elections are approaching fast, and U.S. leaders have been unusually critical of Arab dictatorships — including Egypt, a longtime American ally.

"Our main aim from the start was to choose a time when those abroad would hear us," said Hisham Bastawisi, a Cairo judge on the court of appeals. "The West didn't used to listen to us; now they're listening. They used to listen only to governments and to back up dictatorships, but recently they're listening to the people."

President Bush's emphasis on democratization in the Middle East, coupled with elections in Iraq and the popular uprising in Lebanon, have contributed to a sense of unease among the region's dictatorships. The president rapped Egypt in his State of the Union address for failing to reform, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reinforced that criticism by canceling a trip in February.

Ed Lasky   5 02 05