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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Egypt's taste for reform sours
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Protesters supporting the judges and riot police - 27 April 2006
Previous protests of this kind have seen some violence and arrests
Last year, the talk in Egypt was of political reform.

Hosni Mubarak won a fresh term as president - and for the first time allowed others to stand against him.

In parliamentary elections in November, the main opposition movement the Muslim Brotherhood made striking gains, winning almost 20% of the seats.

The police allowed demonstrations to go ahead which were remarkably outspoken, by Egyptian standards.

It seemed that one of the most important countries of the Middle East was responding to pressure for change coming from the grass roots - and from the Bush administration in Washington, which was sometimes blunt in telling its Egyptian ally that reform had to be genuine and lasting.

But now the mood has soured.

Local elections due in April were postponed for two years - almost certainly out of fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would repeat last year's success.

And now pro-democracy activists are showing their solidarity with two judges who have been critical of the well-documented flaws in the November elections.

All this appears to have rattled the authorities, who have reverted to their old habit of beating and arresting demonstrators.

Compared with its vigorous engagement last year, the Bush administration has been largely silent.

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