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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

No surprise in Egypt

EGYPT'S presidential election last week, unlike most of our own in this country, was never in doubt and produced little suspense: President Hosni Mubarak won his fifth six-year term.

The question for Americans is whether the mixed picture the Egyptian election presents constitutes a triumph of democracy in the Middle East, one of the Bush Administration's mantras as it continues to try to sell the American people on the Iraq war.

On the democracy side, for the first time there were other candidates to vote for - nine of them, in fact. The campaign was somewhat free, with some demonstrators in Cairo loudly shouting "enough" without being beaten into insensibility by Mr. Mubarak's security forces. There was some debate of the issues.

On the negative side, no one, including the nine other candidates, ever believed that Mr. Mubarak wouldn't win. Voter turnout was estimated at 30 percent. The electoral process was opaque, with international observers largely excluded. Mr. Mubarak's son Gamal, believed to be his chosen successor, was also very much in evidence during the elections.

If Mr. Mubarak completes his new term, he will be president of Egypt until he is 83. The United States and the region benefits from stability in that country, particularly as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza proceeds toward transfer of authority there to the Palestinian Authority and Egyptian polices its border with Gaza.

Improved prospects for peace in Gaza, sustained by a positive Egyptian role, contribute to forward movement on the Middle East road map to two states, Israel and Palestine.

On the other hand, the exclusion by name of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood from the Egyptian electoral process, even though candidates it favored were allowed to run, did not contribute to long-term prospects for political accord in Egypt.

On balance, neither Egypt's future nor the Bush Administration's hope to bring democracy to the Middle East was enhanced.

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