Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is to address Egyptians within hours, and statements by some government officials suggest that Mubarak intends to announce his resignation, although other official statements suggest otherwise.
If Mubarak resigns, have the protesters won?
If Mubarak resigns, then in one sense the protesters have won, because the departure of Mubarak was a central unifying demand of the protesters.
However, it is obvious that all this sacrifice and protest wasn't simply about the fate of one man. The demand for Mubarak's departure has been a symbol of a larger demand: the demand for democracy. All this sacrifice, all this protest, was not intended to bring about the replacement of Mubarak with a Mubarak clone. Still less, obviously, are protesters looking for a military coup or martial law, two other scenarios which are the subject of considerable speculation today.
Thus, there is much more to watch for when Mubarak and other Egyptian officials speak today than whether Mubarak resigns from office. Will Mubarak or other Egyptian government officials announce reforms that will put Egypt on a path to democracy?
"All your demands will be met today," Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, told demonstrators in Tahrir Square today.
Four key demands have been constantly lifted up by protesters and opposition parties which are essential for a credible transition to democracy: ending the arbitrary detention and harassment of journalists, human rights activists, and peaceful demonstrators, and freeing those who have been detained; ending the state of emergency; allowing free electoral competition in elections; and restoring full judicial supervision of elections.
End arbitrary detentions and release those detained: some reports have put the number of people arrested in Egypt since massive protests began on January 25 at more than ten thousand. Obviously, so long as journalists, human rights workers, and peaceful protesters are being arrested without charge, Egypt is not on a path to democracy.
End the state of emergency: in 2008 the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights called the emergency law "the main source for violations against human rights," noting "a close relationship between the declaration of a state of emergency" and a pattern of routine torture. The emergency law allows the government to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, and limit freedom of expression and assembly.
Guarantee electoral competition: under current Egyptian law, a candidate for President would need 250 signatures from Egypt's lower and upper houses and municipal councils, all of which are overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling party. Thus, under current law, the ruling party has an effective veto over who can run against it.
Restore full judicial supervision of elections: in 2007, the Mubarak government abolished full judiciary supervision over elections, which had served as a minimum guarantee against fraud.
Some of these reforms could be implemented immediately. Others might take more time, but so far the Egyptian government has not yet even stated an intent to implement them. Without these reforms, any "orderly transition" in Egypt is likely to be a transition not to democracy, but a transition to dictatorship under a different face.
The Egyptian government - and its Western backers - must ultimately be judged according to whether these reforms take place, regardless of what Mubarak or other Egyptian officials may say tonight.
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