Mubarak nominated for 6 more years as president Egypt's leader faces grim 3rd term

July 22, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Staff Writer

CAIRO -- Hosni Mubarak, a former bomber pilot who became president of Egypt in the echo of assassins' gunfire 12 years ago, was nominated last night for a third, six-year term.

The pomp of his ceremonial selection by the People's Assembly belied the grim prospects of Mr. Mubarak's next term: He is unpopular among many of his people; the country is racked by political violence, stuck in economic stagnation and gasping under its crushing overpopulation.

He acknowledged the problems in accepting the nomination. "I am confident the future will -- by necessity -- be better and happier than the present," he told the Parliament.

But Mr. Mubarak, 65, faces more difficulties than at any time since 1981, when Anwar el Sadat was shot in front of him on a parade reviewing stand.

"In many ways, Egypt today resembles what it was like in 1981," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a political analyst. "There is an escalation of opposition by militants, there is a drop in popular support, there are social and economic problems."

For the first time, questions are being openly asked about the ability of the government to survive. They are met by hasty assurances that the government, propped up by the United States' second-largest foreign aid and a vast security apparatus, is secure.

But the problems facing this country of 60 million seem to be getting worse, instead of better. They include:

* Militant attacks. In 18 months, Muslim fundamentalists seeking to overthrow the secular government have killed more than 170 people. They have taken their attacks from the rural hinterlands to the center of Cairo, planting nail-filled bombs in busy cafes and ambushing tourist buses on highways.

The government's response has been harsh, but so far ineffective. It has arrested thousands and rushed military trials to impose severe judgments. Fifteen militants have been hanged, the largest spate of executions for political crimes in Egypt in this century.

The crackdown has been answered by further attacks, and the violence has badly hurt Egypt's foremost industry, tourism.

* The economy. Despite a generous erasing of debts after the Persian Gulf war and a few signs of improvement, Egypt remains a country badly in the red.

Unemployment by some estimates is as high as 20 percent, and inflation is 15 percent. Wages, particularly in the public sector, start at about $30 a month, forcing workers to demand bribes to do their jobs.

* Public disillusionment. By all accounts, Egyptians are fed up with the ineffectiveness of their government, the disparities between the privileged few and the masses, and the difficulties of their lives.

Mr. Mubarak, never loved but once respected, has become the butt of jokes and the object of sneers by those in the street. His government is seen as being corrupt, arrogant and moribund.

"It's like a marriage when love is lost. Everyone finds faults," said Mr. Ibrahim.

* Overpopulation. Egypt's population grows by 1 million every eight months. Many flock to Cairo, where they jam into chaotic slums and further burden the city's sagging infrastructure. Until the population growth becomes lower than the economic growth, the country will continue to become further impoverished.

In a country where the government still keeps tight controls over all aspects of economic and social policy, Mr. Mubarak reaps the blame for many of these problems.

"He has no policy. He has no ideas. He has no philosophy," said one economist.

"It's like it was in the States last November: There is a call for change. People are fed up with the status quo," said Dr. Mohamed al-Sayed Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political Studies. The difference here is "the people's opinion is simply irrelevant," he added.

Mr. Mubarak was nominated last night by a Parliament dominated by his party. He will be the only name on a referendum in October. Few Egyptians are expected to even bother to come to the polls to vote yes or no, and even this limited vote is expected to be widely padded by the government to show support for the president.

Critics long have demanded further moves toward democracy. Mr. Mubarak tolerates his critics -- Egyptians can choose each day from a variety of newspapers attacking the government -- but he resists calls to allow free elections, liberalize the constitution or even appoint a vice president.

"If I had a choice, I would vote for someone else," said a young government worker. "I'd like someone who is more concerned about the people."

He works a second job to supplement his salary -- about $23 a month -- as a supervisor in the Ministry of Culture. He acknowledged he rarely stays at work -- he simply signs in each day, and then leaves. His case is an example of why a bloated government is unable to complete tasks.

"We ought to be paid more," he said. "But truly, I must work more for it."

The government is attempting to bring economic changes, but the path is difficult, and Mr. Mubarak is determined to go slowly to avoid social unrest. Such unrest may be unavoidable, no matter the pace.

"Things will get worse still," said Hussein Amin, a former ambassador to Algeria.

"The hardships felt by the people will increase. More sacrifices are needed, and people are unwilling to sacrifice unless the sacrifice is shared by all, it's for the good of the people, and the government is not corrupt. They want a new regime, new faces."

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