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Il Corriere della Sera - 29 March 2005 The MEP: «I’m optimistic, every day there is something new and unimaginable» by Paolo Conti “A friend of mine here in Cairo defined the arrests of the alleged Muslim Brothers as a way of reciprocally sounding out, between opposition and regime, the new Egyptian social terrain. It may be done with slaps in the face, but it’s a way of doing it.” Emma Bonino, Radical MEP, has been going to the Egyptian capital regularly since June 2001 and follows in detail even the slightest new events. Personal cultural interests (including studying Arabic) add up to a political bet: the likely democratic evolution of the whole Arab area. “I will keep on coming and going until the presidential elections in September. With other Radicals we follow a lot of capitals, from the former Eastern Block up to here. It is group work, nothing solitary.” A point-blank question: as things are now, would you feel like defining the imminent Egyptian presidential elections as “democratic”? "Evidently no. There are, as we see, the arrests of the alleged Muslim Brothers. On 29 January, Ayman Nour was arrested, leader of the Al-Ghad, “Tomorrow”, new liberal-sympathetic party, who was deprived of parliamentary immunity in half an hour, ended up in prison with the accusation of having falsified fifty signatures of supporters… I’ll spare any irony on Italy…, and released days ago after strong internal campaigns by the European Parliament and the USA. The regime has full control of the economy, secret services and TV. Yet I am optimistic about what is happening within the society. Democracy is not a concept but a process, and every day something new happens that would have been unimaginable until a few months ago.” But there is no certainty about the presidential electoral system. “This is another ambiguity. I remember that a little more than a month ago Mubarak defined every chance of modifying article 76 of the Constitution as ‘futile’, therefore also the presidential election in two phases: first, the nomination of the candidate by absolute majority by Parliament, then ratification with a referendum. Now Mubarak has accepted the principle of the amendment and each session of Parliament is material for ample debate in the newspapers and in society: can a candidate stand for election if they are supported by at least 10% of the parliament members, who can collect a quota of signatures? That isn’t known yet. But all this has made cracks in the system.” Meanwhile Mubarak insists: it isn’t necessary to withdraw the emergency laws that he needs to avoid chaos. Yet how can emergency legislation be combined with true democracy? “Here are the cracks: even the secretary of the majority party NDP, the National Democratic Party, said that elections with emergency laws are not elections. As we can see, there are a lot of contradictions. For example demonstrations by the new ‘Kifaya’ (Enough!) movement are tolerated, complete with signboards in front of the Parliament. This is something new: so far there were demonstrations against Israel, against the war in Iraq, the United States. Today there are demonstrations for reforms.” Do you think that the Western models are winning? “I say exactly the opposite. I myself was wrong about this aspect. Of course, American and European pressure had its positive weight. But above all it was new events in the whole Arab area to press towards change. On TV we saw the elections in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Then in Palestine. All Arab women learned that in Morocco and Jordan quotas of female presence in society are applied: I don’t share their enthusiasm, but that doesn’t count much. So there is news of the protests of the Kuwaiti women for the right to vote, demanding equality with the Turkish and Yemenite women. Finally the Lebanon case has come.” Do you fear that fundamentalists will overflow in Egypt too? “I would swim against the tide here too. The regime has taken concern above all for the success of Ayman Nour’s new party, bourgeois, liberal, non-denominational and non-religious. The blackmail of some regimes (or ourselves or the Islamic fundamentalists) doesn’t work any more. Young people above all have understood that the Iran, Sudan or Taleban style of fundamentalism leads nowhere. The symptoms of change are many. The wife of a famous actor, in a divorce suit, requested and obtained for the first time the DNA test to prove that her ex-husband was the father of her son. An exceptionally important precedent for Egypt, where women’s rights are still too weak.” How would you define the Egyptian condition, right now? “I wouldn’t say that we are at the fall of the Berlin wall. I would say that we are at the end of a long season of silence and fear. It is a feverish situation with developments that still can’t be predicted.” What can Europe do, in your opinion? “Very much. I see that stability and commerce still prevail as absolute priorities for the Union. If we would speak more about freedom and less about stability, we could accompany the democracy process, even tackling irritation from the present regimes. But freedom, at least in my belief, is the most important bet.”

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