Mubarak Summons Leaders to Summit
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Egypt today, President Hosni Mubarak confirmed what was widely suspected: He will seek a fifth term in office. The election is set for September 7th. The 77-year-old former air force commander says new anti-terrorism laws are needed in Egypt to replace the emergency laws now in place. Today Mubarak also announced that an Arab summit will be held next week in Sharm el-Sheikh. The resort was the scene of bombings that killed at least 64 people last week. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.
PETER KENYON reporting:
Members of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party have been urging him to compete in Egypt's first-ever multicandidate election. The largest opposition parties are boycotting the vote, saying the playing field tilts too far in Mubarak's favor. But even the president's critics, who give potential challengers no chance of unseating Mubarak, admit that having a ballot with more than one name on it would be a step in the right direction.
In an address to an adoring audience in the province of Menoufia, where he was born, Mubarak received only warm applause when he portrayed his 24-year tenure as a long march toward democracy. Speaking through an interpreter, he said his job was not yet finished.
President HOSNI MUBARAK (Egypt): (Through Translator) I would never, ever let Egypt down and for this day I announce from here that I am determined to be nominating myself in the coming presidential elections.
KENYON: Mubarak's party quickly embraced his candidacy and immediately began taking up the president's call for social, economic and political reforms, reforms that critics say the leadership only tends to talk about during election years. NDP lawmakers pointed to a long-standing grievance of human rights activists and others, Egypt's Draconian emergency laws, which give vast police powers to Mubarak's administration. Those laws are still in place 24 years after Mubarak was thrust into power by the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak said the struggle against terrorism would, if anything, be increased, but he said it may be time for Egypt to scrap the emergency laws in favor of new anti-terrorism legislation.
Pres. MUBARAK: (Through Translator) Many countries have recently passed comprehensive laws to combat terrorism. And let me say here the time is right for us to follow suit. There is a need for a firm and a decisive law that eliminates terrorism and uproots its threads.
KENYON: Such a move would take the executive police powers out of Egypt's constitution and put them under the jurisdiction of the legislature, where critics say they have always belonged. But opposition lawmakers were skeptical that the change would come anytime soon. Mubarak's likely leading challenger, Ayman Nour, said if Mubarak is serious he should immediately abolish the emergency laws.
But Egyptians these days are worried more about the impact of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings on Egypt's economy than on constitutional debate. Egyptian police today announced the arrest of 15 more suspects in the Sharm el-Sheikh attack. Underscoring his desire to restore the Red Sea resort to its former prominence, Mubarak announced an Arab summit would be held there next Wednesday. Topics are expected to include the situation in Iraq and Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.