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Meet the Incumbent: Mubarak looks to appeal to an evolving nation

Posted by vmsalama on August 18, 2005

By Vivian Salama

Daily Star Staff
CAIRO:  It wasn’t the fact that there was a press conference held yesterday at the Mubarak Campaign headquarters that was so atypical; it was the way they held it.  On the tail of a visit by President Hosni Mubarak, who had just be briefed by his campaign staff, reporters filed into the auditorium – as they entered, many were handed headsets so to ensure no one was left lost in translation.  Transcripts of the President’s Wednesday night address were made available in English and Arabic.  The setting itself was almost superfluously comfortable; air-conditioning set at a perfect temperature; theater-style chairs with a high reclining back; television cameras restricted to the back;  microphones strategically lined up on a single podium in the front.
            Then there was the décor.  No longer is the National Democratic Party (NDP) simply calling out for voters to say “yes to Mubarak,” they’re telling them why.  “Mubarak 2005: Leadership and crossing into the future,” the signs read; an image of a robust President Mubarak, sleeves rolled up, placed strategically on the far right hand side of the poster.  All along the left and right walls, silent testaments of dedication to his leadership – each poster depicting a overjoyed commoner in his or her natural habitat in areas across Egypt; “Mubarak 2005” written on top. 

Mubarak Campaign

To some, it may not be what the President is saying that interests them so much as it is the way he is saying it.  While the Egyptian people are accustomed to seeing their president’s face decorating billboards across the country, they are not used to seeing a neighborly, softer side to the 77-year old president, now campaigning for his fifth six-year term.  Something has definitely changed. 
“[President Mubarak] has experienced a lot in his life that makes him sympathetic to the problems of the common people,” Mohamed Kamal, political secretariat for the NDP and head of the campaign, told reporters yesterday.  “We will work with the president.  We will have contact with the voters directly and through the media, so the voters know what to expect.”
Kamal was joined by Hossam Badrawi, a member of the People’s Assembly, and Mahmoud Mohieldin, Minister of Investment.  In keeping with an effort to reform inside and out, the President has outlined a platform, or a list of political and economic objectives should he be elected.  The goal, campaign leaders insist, is to focus on the future, and realize that the president can evolve with his citizens.    
To ensure the legitimacy and transparency of their campaign, Mubarak’s staff says they are committed toward working hand in hand with the media during this three week period.  Daily bulletins will be issued listing the President’s schedule, his meeting and public appearances.  The First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak will even hit the campaign trail in an effort to promote her husband’s message of reform leading up to Election Day – September 7.  Then, as much as twice a week, campaign leaders will hold press conferences to inform the media of any major happenings, and give them the opportunity to ask whatever questions they may have. 
“We are trying to mobilize all of our efforts now toward focusing on the future,” explained Kamal.  “We are not elaborating on past achievements.  The President has put forth the basic principles.  He is calling on society to integrate them so any constitutional amendments would be a reflection of the reality at large.”
During his speech to the nation Wednesday night, Mubarak spoke of the future for political reform.  He sited hopeful amendments to the constitution which would enhance the much demanded independence of the judiciary, reinforce the rule of law and revise the system of administrative detention.  The Judges’ Club, which meets September 2 to make a final ruling on whether they intend to monitor the election.  Kamal conveyed the President’s confidence that the elections will be supervised by the judiciary 100 percent.  He added hopes for revisions to Parliament, including it in budgetary issues, promoting the fair representation of women, and giving to it the power to hold the government accountable.  Mubarak also emphasized the importance of free speech and free flow of information.   
“We cannot prejudge changes before they start,” insists Badrawi.  “It is in the favor of a democratic process to have strong opposition.  This is the reformation of society.” 
The President further pledged his dedication to tackling unemployment.  He sited programs to build 1,000 factories in Egypt over the next six years to provide 250,000 jobs annually; reclaiming one million feddans of desert land to allow for 70,000 jobs in the agriculture sector; plus a goal to increase the number of rooms and hotels over the next six years, creating an additional 200,000 job opportunities annually. 
“We are taking into consideration the considerable growth in the labor force,” admits Mohieldin.  “This year alone we have 5,800 new projects.  We are making use of the positive and negative experiences and using it to support our finances.”
Mohieldin admits that it is impossible to site specific records or give exact figures as to past and present corruption taking place in the government, though it did not dismiss it does exist.  “The government is committed to targeting corruption and bringing anyone committing any wrongdoing to justice,” he said.  

Mubarak Campaign Headquarters

Kamal adds that the Mubarak’s campaign staff has made it their mission to stress that the organization and transparency of their campaign is in every way an indication of what is to come for this reformed candidate and party.   
“From our financial side, we are very transparent,” insists Kamal.  “We will submit periodic reports listing the expenses of the campaign and at the end, we will submit a final report.”
The president additionally spoke of his commitment to raising the basic wages of low-income civil servants by 100 percent, and increasing the wages of the remaining civil servants by 75 percent over the next term.  He also stressed other issues, such as enforcement of better education, and the great challenges facing Egypt in its role as a leader in this region battling war and terrorism. 
While such issues remain of vital importance to the citizens of Egypt, we will not see them debated face-to-face among the candidates anytime soon.  With ten candidates – headliners including Mubarak, El-Ghad (Tomorrow) party leader Ayman Nour, and Wafd leader, Norman Gomaa – Kamal insists a debate would be too difficult to pull of logistically or organizationally.  He further emphasized the President’s commitment to seeing to it that there are no outside pressures or disruptions to the coming campaign and election period.     

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