There was a time, not so long ago, when Egypt and Jordan were the poster-countries of political reform and democratisation in the Middle East. In those days, parliamentary elections like those held in Jordan last month would have been hailed as massive progress and a model for all Arab states, especially as the country’s Islamic party lost considerable ground. And even Husni Mubarak, so long the US’s main ally in the Arab world, would have been gently chided for his persecution of opposition journalists, even if his treatment of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, Egypt’s main Islamic movement and most popular opposition party, was quietly ignored.
While 40 senior officials of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) were being dragged through the Egyptian courts, four editors were recently fined and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for defaming president Husni Mubarak and his son Gamal. That the action against the editors was as misconceived and miscalculated as the crackdown on the Ikhwan was demonstrated by the defiance of the editors and the escalation of press attacks on both Mubarak and Gamal.
The referendum on amendments to Egypt’s constitution on March 26 went almost exactly as expected by most independent observers. The turn-out was almost non-existent, as a result of an opposition boycott and widespread cynicism about the referendum.