Egyptian state of emergency commonplace

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Andrei Murtazin) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has extended the state of emergency in the country for another two years.

This is nothing extraordinary because it has been ongoing for 26 years now. It was first imposed on October 6, 1981 following the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat. Lieutenant Khaled Islambouli, a supporter of the radical Muslim Brothers, shot and killed the president because of his peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

The state of emergency in the land of pyramids has been regularly renewed ever since, and has long become a way of life.

Mubarak is now 80. For more than a quarter-century, he has ruled Egypt "with an iron hand in a velvet glove." It is difficult to say where Egypt would be now without his leadership. Egypt is a secular state, but Islam is playing an increasingly dominant role every year. Egypt's main enemy is not Israel, nor the United States, but radical extremist groupings within the country - the Muslim Brothers and Al Gamaa al Islamiya, or Islamic Group. They killed the former president and declared for all to hear that their goal is to topple the secular regime and turn Egypt into an Islamic state. That is why the country has been under a state of emergency for so long. Any unauthorized rallies and marches are banned in the country, as well as all parties established on religious grounds. (Gamal Abdel Nasser also banned religious parties in 1954 following a failed attempt on his life by the Muslim Brothers.)

On the other hand, there are no travel restrictions for Egyptians. The state of emergency also does not greatly affect foreign tourists or diplomats accredited in the country. Among foreigners only journalists, particularly television journalists, feel some of the pinch. Defying the police does not mean being shot on the spot either. For example, in April Egypt saw a wave of strikes sweep across the country, the first in 30 years. In Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, about 40,000 textile workers laid town their tools. Strikers protested the further privatization of state-owned plants and demanded higher pay and better working conditions. However, no disturbances or marches followed. The authorities complied and increased wages.

Over the past 25 years, Mubarak has survived several assassination attempts engineered and organized by the Muslim Brothers. Each time presidential security excelled, and Mubarak was never hurt. Unable to kill the president, the religious fanatics changed tactics and started targeting foreign tourists. Their aim was now the country's tourism industry, one of Egypt's main money-makers.

Ten years ago, in 1997, over 60 foreign tourists from Japan, Germany and other countries were killed in Luxor in the largest terrorist attack ever in Egypt's history. The result was that for almost a year no Western tourists visited the country. Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya claimed responsibility for the attack. Since then all tourist attractions and facilities in Egypt, as well as tourists themselves, have been under tight security.

In 2005, Mubarak decided to institute some elements of Western democracy - after almost 25 years at the state's helm, he held the first alternative presidential election in the country's history, followed by parliamentary elections. He won 88.6% of the presidential vote, but with the parliamentary elections things went wrong: more than 100 so-called "independent deputies," actually members of the banned religious groups, made it to parliament. They hold only one-quarter of the seats, and therefore lack the power to stop the president's or government's decisions.

Mubarak's enemies are cursing him for having the country follow in the wake of American policy. But that, I think, is better and safer for the region than militant Islamism. Egypt's population is nearing 80 million, the country is short of resources and a food crisis is already looming on the banks of the life-giving Nile. Today it makes one shudder to think what the world could expect from the land of pyramids should the Muslim Brothers come to power.

Possible outcomes could be:

1. Political and economic isolation;

2. A resultant drop in living standards and economic chaos;

3. An aggressive foreign policy; and

4. Attempts at ideological expansion: declaring a jihad on its neighbors and exporting the "Islamic revolution" beyond Egypt's borders.

To avoid this kind of scenario, Mubarak has had to ditch many of the features of Western democracy. All those charged with terrorism are tried by a military tribunal, which means either a death sentence or a long prison stay.

The state of emergency in the land of pyramids has become the essential condition for a stable government in the country and quite an institution in Egypt's political life. No one sees any sense in lifting it, at least not while Mubarak is at the top.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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