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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Egypt campaign galvanises politics

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst, Cairo

Something extraordinary happened in Egypt this week. For the first time in this country's history a serving president went on the campaign trail to urge his people to vote for him in a presidential election.

In the past, a single candidate was nominated by parliament and then automatically endorsed by the electorate in a referendum.

But the political climate has been changing rapidly in Egypt ever since President Hosni Mubarak announced earlier this year that the forthcoming presidential election will for the first time be a contest between several contenders.

Despite continued criticism of the new electoral law few doubt that Egypt has entered a new political era.

No real contest

No one here doubts that Mr Mubarak will win another term in office when Egyptians vote early next month.

Opposition demonstration
Opposition supporter calls for an end to military rule
The constitutional reform he has instigated has been engineered to make sure that no rival can seriously challenge him.

And that explains why many Egyptians are quite sceptical as to whether the election will make a difference.

Mr Mubarak kick-started his campaign earlier this week with a long list of ambitious pledges including creating more than four million jobs within the next six years if he is elected.

New dynamism

Mr Mubarak has been in office for 24 years and his opponents have accused him of repeating old promises that were never carried out.

But to be fair to Mr Mubarak, the constitutional reform he has started has created a new dynamism in a country that has so far been run like a one-party state for more than half a century.

It is still difficult to separate the machinery of the state from that of his ruling National Democratic Party.

And the heavy-handedness of the security services in dealing with political opposition is often cited as an example that nothing much has changed in Egypt.

But signs of a new emerging political culture are undeniably there.

For the first time, the state media is at least trying to be impartial when covering the presidential race.

Other sectors of society have been galvanised by the prospect of change.

The judges are up in arms against the state demanding complete and full supervision of the election. Civil society groups are organising campaigns to monitor the vote.

One can hardly overestimate the significance of this election. The official old culture of treating the president as a god-like figure, infallible and perfect, appears to be coming to an end.

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