According to the Egyptian government, a referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow multi-candidate presidential elections for the first time in Egypt’s history has passed with eighty-three percent of the vote. Egyptian officials say fifty-four percent of Egypt's more than thirty-two-million registered voters cast their ballots.
President Hosni Mubarak, in office since 1981, is expected to run for a fifth term when the election is held in September. Among the expected presidential candidates is Ayman Nour, leader of the pro-democracy Party of Tomorrow. Mr. Nour was arrested in January on charges that he allegedly falsified petitions that resulted in his party's legalization, but has since been released on bail.
Some opposition groups had called for a boycott of the referendum. They complained that the election rules require political parties to have at least five percent of the elected members of parliament in order to field a candidate, or, in the case of independent candidates, must have the support of sixty-five members of Egypt's four-hundred-forty-four member lower house of parliament – a parliament dominated by President Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.
For this year only, any registered political party -- there are nineteen in Egypt -- can field a candidate. Independent candidates must meet the strict guidelines, which appeared designed to forestall a presidential candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially banned in Egypt.
There were reports that government agents beat protestors and stood aside while supporters of President Mubarak attacked their opponents. An Associated Press reporter said he saw a woman "pounced upon by Mubarak loyalists who punched her and pummeled her with batons and tore her clothes." President George W. Bush had this comment:
"The idea of people expressing themselves in opposition to the government, then getting a beating, is not our view of how a democracy ought to work. It's not the way that you have free elections. People ought to be allowed to express themselves, and I'm hopeful that [President Mubarak] will have open elections that everybody can trust in."
"While our expectations must be realistic," said President Bush, "our ideals must be firm and they must be clear. The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.