Egyptians Prepare for Elections

Egyptians go to the polls Wednesday in their first multi-party elections under a new and supposedly more democratic system. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak faces nine other candidates, but there seems to be little doubt that Mubarak will be elected to his fifth term in office.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Egyptians go to the polls tomorrow in their first multiparty elections under a new and supposedly more democratic system. In a speech in Cairo last June, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had praise and a challenge for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

(Soundbite of June speech)

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. Now the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people.

SIEGEL: Mubarak faces nine other candidates, but there's no doubt in anyone's mind that he'll be elected to his fifth term in office. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

To begin with Egypt has gone only partway to meet the standards that Secretary Rice said define every free election.

(Soundbite of June speech)

Sec. RICE: Opposition groups must be free to assemble and to participate and to speak to the media. Voting should occur without violence or intimidation. And international election monitors and observers must have unrestricted access to do their jobs.

Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Having laid out those clear conditions, I sort of expected the administration to follow through and really put some pressure on him to fulfill at least some of them.

FLINTOFF: Robert Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He says President Mubarak has rejected the conditions Secretary Rice set out.

Mr. KAGAN: He's done nothing, and the administration is now quiet about it. So, you know, I wish they had done more, but I also am a little bit puzzled as to why you lay out specific conditions and then are silent when they're ignored.

FLINTOFF: State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that the fact that there are multiparty elections in Egypt is a positive step forward.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (US State Department Spokesman): It's certainly positive that these candidates have, in some way or another, access to the media and are able to get their agenda out. Certainly it is not enough just to hold an election. How that election unfolds is very important. We've called for international election observers in Egypt. Thus far I don't think that there's been an invitation extended to observers, but this is something that we would encourage and continue to urge.

FLINTOFF: But McCormack wasn't suggesting that there might be consequences if Egypt failed to allow observers or to respond to any of the administration's other encouragements.

Mr. McCORMACK: We'll see how--when looking back on the lead-up to the election as well as the actual election day and the process of counting ballots, what the whole process looks like.

FLINTOFF: Robert Kagan knows that the US provides Egypt with more than $1 billion in aid every year. At the same time, though, he points out that the administration is looking to Egypt for support in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And he says there's also a worry that if Mubarak opens up too much, there's a possibility that Islamists could gain a foothold in Egypt's government. Kagan says there'll be another chance for the administration to apply pressure for democratic reforms when Egypt holds parliamentary elections later this fall.

Mr. KAGAN: And I think that if there was some progress, if some opposition groups were able to gain a foothold in the Parliament, that might actually make a difference for the long term. And so I would hope that once we get past this first round of presidential elections, that the administration really takes seriously its own rhetoric and its own demands when we get to the parliamentary phase.

FLINTOFF: Egyptians hold their presidential vote tomorrow. President Mubarak's margin of victory is expected to be announced by Saturday. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Washington.

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