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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 February 2005, 16:10 GMT
Mubarak 'opens the dungeon gate'
The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Cairo analyses the significance of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to ask parliament to approve a constitutional change allowing multi-candidate presidential elections.

Protester in Cairo on 21 February brandishing Enough Of Mubarak logo
Protesters want to stop Mubarak being elected for a fifth term

This is a very astute move by Mr Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt unopposed since the assassination of Anwar Sadat 24 years ago.

In one fell swoop, he has outmanoeuvred the opposition and also managed to go some way towards muting US criticism of his style of government.

His decision comes in a week which saw the biggest anti-Mubarak demonstration ever held in Egypt.

In the past, opponents have been too intimidated by the state security apparatus to come onto the streets.

Now, to their complete surprise, their immediate ambitions have suddenly been realised.

Important reform

One human rights activist said it was as if the dungeon gate had been opened. Now, she said, she could breathe fresh air.

While most opponents welcome the announcement, they also want Mr Mubarak to go further

A spokesman for Egypt's newest political party, called Tomorrow, said it was probably the most important piece of political reform that Mr Mubarak had introduced.

But he thought it was designed to embellish the regime, rather than bring about serious political change.

The presidential election will be held towards the end of this year and it does not give much time for the opposition to find and project candidates who could seriously challenge Mr Mubarak.

One man who is considered as a possible opponent is Ayman Nour, the head of the Tomorrow Party, but he was jailed on what his supporters call trumped-up charges shortly after the party was officially recognised by the state.

While most opponents welcome the announcement, they also want Mr Mubarak to go further by dismantling some of the more oppressive components of what they regard as a stagnant, authoritarian regime.

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