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Egypt - Introduction
OCCUPYING A FOCAL GEOGRAPHIC bridge linking Africa and Asia, contemporary Egypt is the inheritor of a civilization dating back more than 6,000 years. The unification of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt in the third millennium B.C. required the development of administrative and religious structures, and the monuments that remain demonstrate the mathematical, astronomical, and architectural skills attained in constructing rock tombs, temples, and pyramids--the latter dedicated to the divine kings, the pharaohs.
Egypt's strategic location has made it the object of numerous conquests: by the Ptolemies, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Fatimids, Mamluks, Ottomans, and Napoleon Bonaparte. The most recent conquerors, the British, granted Egypt partial independence in 1922 and withdrew completely in 1954. Of these foreign rules, the Arab Muslim conquest, by its arabization and Islamization, had the greatest impact on Egyptian life and culture, resulting in the rapid conversion of the overwhelming majority of the population to Islam and the spread of Sunni Muslim religious and educational institutions. Shia Islam, represented by the Fatimid conquest in 969, led to the founding the same year of Al Azhar, later transformed into a Sunni theological school, and in the 1990s still regarded as the outstanding interpreter of Islamic religious law (sharia).
The rule of Muhammad Ali (1805-48), an Albanian officer in the army of the Ottoman sultan, who succeeded in detaching Egypt from Ottoman control, represented another major influence on Egypt's history. Muhammad Ali encouraged the development of agriculture, by introducing long-staple cotton as a major crop; by expanding Egypt's infrastructure through a network of canals, irrigation systems, and roads; and by promoting secular education. His efforts to create a manufacturing sector failed, however, in part because Britain's tariff policies were designed to favor the import of raw materials to be processed in Britain.
For contemporary Egypt, the Free Officers' 1952 Revolution, spearheaded by Gamal Abdul Nasser, has clearly been the formative event. Nasser's charismatic leadership institutionalized the role of the military and created an authoritarian state that pursued goals of "Arab socialism." These goals centered on the implementation of agrarian reform, nationalization of key industries, a one-party state (the Arab Socialist Union--ASU) domestically, and closer ties with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe internationally. Major events of Nasser's regime included the construction of the Aswan High Dam with Soviet aid; the take- over of the Suez Canal in 1956, which led to the 1956 War and the British-French-Israeli Tripartite Invasion of the Sinai Peninsula (also known as Sinai); and the short-lived Egyptian-Syrian union as the United Arab Republic (1958-61). Egyptian participation in the June 1967 War with Israel resulted in Egypt's loss of the Gaza Strip and Sinai and the so-called War of Attrition along the Suez Canal in 1969-70.
Nasser's death brought to office his vice president, Anwar as Sadat, also a military man but more conservative in political outlook than his predecessor. Sadat's rule has been characterized as patriarchal, a return to a traditional method of government that relied on clientelism. Sadat demilitarized the state in favor of the bourgeoisie and opened Egypt to capitalism and to the West through the infitah (opening or open door) in 1974. Sadat also moved toward some democratization and constitutionalism, represented by the Constitution of 1971, which, however, concentrated power in the hands of the president. Sadat's early successes in the October 1973 War with Israel made him a popular hero and psychologically boosted the morale of Egyptians. In an attempt to end the state of war with Israel, Sadat journeyed to Jerusalem in November 1977; as a next step, through the mediation of United States president Jimmy Carter, he signed the Camp David Accords in September 1978 and the Egyptian- Israeli peace treaty in March 1979. These actions, however, and Sadat's increasing repression of domestic opposition, resulted in Egypt's being cut off from the rest of the Arab world and ultimately led to Sadat's assassination by a Muslim extremist group, Al Jihad (Holy War), in October 1981.
Husni Mubarak, Sadat's vice president, took over the government and was initially regarded by many as an interim president. He demonstrated a commitment to gradualism aimed at modifying and preserving the best elements of his predecessors' accomplishments while building domestic consensus, tolerating opposition, promoting an equal partnership between the public and private sectors, allowing greater democracy and constitutionalism, and relying on technocrats for advice. In addition, through skillful diplomacy he gained Egypt's return to the Arab fold in 1987 and assumed a leadership role in the Arab world. Simultaneously he maintained good relations with the West and improved relations with the Soviet Union.
Mubarak's gradualism seemed to many observers a useful leadership characteristic for contemporary Egypt. For example, he strove to prevent the small but growing number of Muslim extremists, sometimes referred to as fundamentalists, from exercising disproportionate influence over the moderate body of Muslims, who in November 1990 constituted approximately 90 percent of the country's population of about 56 million persons. (In announcing the population figure, the Census Bureau stated that the population has increased by 1 million persons in nine months and seven days.) Although concerned about the intimidation of Christian minorities, mainly Copts, at the hands of Muslim extremists, as of mid-1991, the government has been unable to prevent young Coptic Christians from acting on their own to counter acts of violence against their religious centers and property.
Since the 1952 Revolution, the government has appointed the functionaries of mosques and Islamic religious schools. The growth of Islamic political movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and of Islamic associations in universities resulted in increased pressure on the government in the 1980s for application of the sharia in legal decisions. Mubarak acceded to the gradual application of the process.
The 1952 Revolution also expanded secular education, and from 1964 to 1974 the government was obliged by law to hire all those with higher education degrees. The practice led to an overstaffed and ineffective bureaucracy. The infitah ended this hiring requirement, but by the mid-1980s unemployment among university graduates was estimated to be as high as 30 percent.
The 1952 Revolution initiated free health care at public health facilities. Although these services continued in the early 1990s, facilities often lacked adequate medical personnel. In addition, a social security program was begun in the 1960s.
The 1952 Revolution had given priority to economic development and had made the state the prime economic agent of Arab socialism. The National Charter of 1962 clearly spelled out the state's role. The role of the private sector, however, was considerably enlarged by the infitah after the October 1973 War, and private-sector employees on average received three times the salaries of government workers. Mubarak encouraged private investment but funds flowed largely into the service sector and agriculture rather than into industry, despite government development plans (1982-86, 1987-91) designed to promote the latter. The shortage of skilled personnel, especially in the technical and industrial spheres, also had a major impact on the economy.
Agricultural production had not benefited significantly from the development process. By 1990, although production had shifted away from concentration on long-staple cotton to such crops as rice, fruits, and vegetables, self-sufficiency had fallen below the 1960 level. Only approximately 3 percent of Egypt's land was suitable for agriculture. Despite postrevolutionary land reforms, increased mechanization, and land reclamation programs following the construction of the Aswan High Dam--a program underway in 1991 involved 300,000 feddans to be worked jointly with Sudan--Egypt's agricultural output did not keep pace with population growth. Although pricing reforms and the elimination of government quotas for most crops helped increase output, production remained insufficient. Part of the problem was lack of proper drainage and consequent reduction of optimum yields. In general, a major challenge facing Egypt was better exploitation of its water resources, including exploration for new underground water, particularly in the Western Desert, and improved irrigation technology. Government development plans also sought to promote generation of electricity and other energy sources such as oil, gas, and coal as well as to improve further the transportation network of roads, railroads, and canals and to update telecommunications.
Egypt's major sources of foreign exchange used for development projects and for needed imports were oil revenues, Suez Canal tolls, tourism income, and workers' remittances from the approximately 2.5 million Egyptians working abroad. Added to these were capital grants from other Arab states after the October 1973 War and, as well, economic and military grants from the United States and loans from the Paris Club (the informal name for a consortium of eighteen Western creditor nations) after the conclusion of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt faced a serious economic situation in the late 1980s and early 1990s: stagnation and ultimately negative economic growth in addition to heavy indebtedness. After two years of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Egyptian government finally concluded a preliminary agreement in October 1990 that enabled it to reschedule its US$18 billion debt to Paris Club members. The agreement required Egypt to increase prices of certain basic commodities such as gas, fuel oil, gasoline, electricity, flour, and rice by eliminating or reducing subsidies. Mandated, as well, were the devaluation and unification of the Central Bank exchange rate and the exchange rate of commercial banks, raising of the interest rate, and reforming of the foreign investment law. Egypt also sought to promote privatization of the industrial public sector--one of the recommendations of the World Bank--and announced in October 1990 that it would establish nine new industrial "free zones" to encourage investment and create more jobs. Some officials recognized that, additionally, the government needed to restructure management style in the public sector and banking to encourage greater efficiency and productivity. Another economic problem facing Egypt was rising inflation, which between 1987 and 1989 had increased between 20 and 25 percent annually. In early 1991, inflation was estimated to have dropped to 11 percent, but it nevertheless had a severe impact especially on lower income groups.
Egypt also endeavored to improve its trade and financial situation by concluding barter agreements that eliminated the need to expend foreign currency. For example, in August 1990 it reached a five-year agreement with the Soviet Union that was worth ŁE5 billion, with other supplemental agreements to follow.
Egypt's economic situation became particularly critical in 1990 because of the Persian Gulf crisis. In October, before the crisis developed into a war, the World Bank had calculated that Egypt would lose US$2.4 billion in remittances from workers in Iraq and Kuwait, US$500 million from the loss of exports to Iraq and Kuwait, US$500 million from tourism, and US$200 million from Suez Canal tolls. In addition, Egyptian minister of international cooperation Maurice Makramallah estimated that Egypt would require a further US$900 million to meet the needs of Egyptians repatriated from Iraq and Kuwait. In early April 1991, after the war, Egyptian officials announced that 700,000 Egyptians who had worked in Iraq and Kuwait had returned home jobless. Estimates of unemployment in early 1991 varied, with some figures as high as 20 percent, despite the approximate 684,000 visas issued to Egyptians for work in Saudi Arabia after the Persian Gulf crisis began.
The estimated costs did not take into account actual war costs of sending about 38,000 Egyptian armed forces personnel to Saudi Arabia and provisioning them. Saudi Arabia, which in December promised US$1.5 billion, and Kuwait, together with several European Economic Community (EEC) member nations, had agreed to contribute to these costs and to the losses incurred by Egypt's economy, but funds were slow in arriving. President George Bush of the United States proposed in September that the United States forgive Egypt its approximately US$7 billion military debt because of Egypt's help in the Persian Gulf crisis; Congress subsequently endorsed this proposal. This action relieved Egypt of annual repayments amounting to more than US$700 million. Other countries such as Canada, several EEC member states, the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia also forgave Egypt's debt obligations. By early November 1990 the total debt cancellation stood at about US$14 billion.
In subsequent action, Egypt sent a delegation in mid-April 1991 to the IMF requesting an eighteen-month standby agreement and a loan. When United States secretary of state James A. Baker III visited Cairo in March, he had promised that the United States, grateful for Egypt's support in the war with Iraq, would put in a good word for Egypt with the IMF. In mid-May the IMF approved the standby agreement and granted Egypt a US$372 million loan, but imposed certain additional conditions on the Egyptian economy. The IMF agreement paved the way for Egypt to obtain favorable terms from the Paris Club for its debt to member countries. On May 25, it was announced that Egyptian government debts would be reduced 50 percent and advantageous terms granted on the remainder. In mid-June the World Bank agreed to an additional US$520 million loan to Egypt.
Meanwhile, with regard to economic development Egypt signed an agreement at the end of May 1991 with the African Development Bank for a US$350 million loan to finance part of the Kuraymar power station. This sum was supplemented by contributions of US$100 million from the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, US$100 million from the World Bank, and US$10 million from the Islamic Bank for Development. On July 10 the Egypt Consultative Group, consisting of thirty countries and institutions, pledged US$8 billion in aid to Egypt over the next two years, more than twice the minimum Egypt had suggested. The World Bank, which organized the group, stated that the donors had determined on "massive support" for Egypt's reform program, which it described as "daring" and "exhaustive." It estimated that Egypt had lost approximately US$20 billion as a result of the war in the Persian Gulf.
The endorsement of Egypt's policies represented by the action of this World Bank-affiliated group was an encouraging sign. In summary, however, Egypt's prospective economic situation depended upon several factors: the successful implementation of the IMF agreement, its capacity to promote itself as an investment and financial center, its role in the region as well as its position as a partner of the West, and perhaps most critically, its ability to follow through on necessary economic reforms.
The role of government was prominent not only in Egypt's economic life but also in other spheres, such as political parties, parliamentary organization and elections, the judiciary, and the military. The Constitution of 1971 validated a mixed presidential-parliamentary-cabinet system with power concentrated in the hands of the president, who had extensive opportunities to bestow patronage, including the appointment of the prime minister, and who could legislate by decree in emergencies. Whereas the People's Assembly, the elected lower house, theoretically could exercise a check on the president, in reality this did not occur, and the assembly had no role in foreign affairs or defense matters. The upper house, the Consultative Council, was an advisory body created in 1980 when the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Union, then the only legitimate political party, became the nucleus of the council.
Under Mubarak the People's Assembly acquired greater authority over minor matters of state and more freedom of debate; assembly committees also exercised an oversight role with regard to cabinet ministers. The dominant political party remained the National Democratic Party (NDP), which had succeeded the ASU, but it was largely an appendage of the government. The new Electoral Law in 1984 limited opposition seats in the assembly to parties that obtained at least 8 percent of the vote, thereby eliminating representation on the part of some of the small fringe parties. In May 1990, however, Egypt acquired several new parties: the Green Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, and the Young Egypt (Misr al Fatah) Party became eligible to run for election. The Supreme Administrative Court rejected, however, the application for party status of the Nasserite Party on the ground that its program was totalitarian. A similar request for party recognition by the Muslim Brotherhood in January 1990 had been rejected because the body had been formed on a religious basis.
In May 1990, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the People's Assembly elected in May 1987 was invalid. It so ruled because a 1986 amendment to the 1972 Electoral Law was judged unconstitutional by reason of its discrimination against independent candidates through use of the closed list system of proportional representation, requiring selection of a single slate. As a result, assembly legislation passed up to June 2 would stand, but new elections had to be held under the second- ballot system, in which, if no individual received an absolute majority, a run-off was held between the top two candidates. Mubarak adjourned the existing assembly and called a referendum for October 11 on whether the assembly should be dissolved. The referendum resulted in new assembly elections called for November 29, with nine legal parties authorized to participate.
In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood and three of the major opposition parties--the right-of-center New Wafd Party, the left- of-center Socialist Labor Party, and the centrist Liberal Party-- declined to take part in the elections. They refused because of amendments to the 1972 Electoral Law forbidding unified lists (the Muslim Brotherhood had combined with the Socialist Labor Party for election purposes) and preventing NDP members from changing allegiance. Other reasons for the abstention of these parties was the government's refusal to lift the state of emergency or to allow judicial bodies to supervise the election. As a result, in a very low voter turnout estimated at between 8 and 25 percent of those eligible, the NDP claimed to control 79.6 percent of the new assembly, with independents holding 19 percent and the left 1.4 percent. The NDP percentage included, however, ninety-five independents affiliated with the NDP, indicating that party control was not as strong as it might seem. An internationally known Egyptian political analyst has said that the 1990 elections showed that local issues and loyalties counted for more in party politics than political platforms and that unless the NDP is separated from the government, Mubarak's desire for reorganization of NDP structure in the interests of increased democratization cannot occur. The November election was further clouded by the October 12 assassination by Muslim extremists of assembly speaker Rafat al Mahjub, constitutionally next in line to the president.
The Persian Gulf crisis and the ensuing war resulted in quandaries for various Egyptian parties other than the NDP. For example, divisions occurred among Islamist groups with some supporting Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and others backing Iraq. The Muslim Brotherhood decided to end its alliance with the Socialist Labor Party and seek to gain party status of its own. The leftist parties also experienced confusion, with some members of Tagammu supporting each side in the Persian Gulf war.
Evidence of the greater role of constitutionalism was the growing independence of the judiciary under Mubarak. Judges increasingly defended the rights of citizens against the state. The Ministry of Interior, however, often ignored court decrees.
On the foreign affairs front as well, Mubarak followed a policy of gradualism. He continued the friendly relations with the West established under Sadat but sought a more independent course for Egypt. For instance, he improved relations with the Soviet Union and rejected United States president Ronald Reagan's proposal to take joint military action against Libya.
A number of events reflected Mubarak's growing confidence in asserting his personal role and that of Egypt on the Middle East scene. In September 1989, he proposed ten points to enable direct Palestinian-Israeli talks on Israeli prime minister Yitzhaq Shamir's election plan. The points included international observers for the election, withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the balloting area, an end to Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, and the participation of East Jerusalem residents in the election. The Israeli Labor Party endorsed the proposals, but the Likud government sharply opposed them.
Egypt's more prominent role in the international sphere was also reflected in Mubarak's April 1990 visits to various Asian and European capitals: Beijing, Pyongyang, Moscow, and London. He focused primarily on economic matters, seeking debt relief and expanded export markets for Egypt. His purpose also included a request for political action condemning Israel's settlement of Soviet Jewish immigrants in the occupied territories and banning weapons proliferation in the Middle East.
The major event affecting Egypt's relations with the Arab world and the broader international sphere was clearly its decision to side with Saudi Arabia and the United States in opposing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Earlier Mubarak had sought unsuccessfully to mediate between Iraq and Kuwait. Egyptians were unsympathetic with Iraq despite the presence there of nearly 1 million Egyptian workers because of numerous instances of mistreatment of Egyptians by Iraq and disenchantment with Saddam Husayn's Baath socialism and his authoritarian actions. Mubarak's condemnation of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, therefore, was initially popular in Egypt; as the crisis developed into war, however, popular support appeared to wane somewhat although observers believed Egyptians supported Mubarak's position approximately three to one.
Even before Iraq invaded Kuwait, its threats to that country began producing a realignment in the Arab world. In mid-July Syrian president Hafiz al Assad paid a historic visit to Cairo after thirteen years of separation between the two nations; both countries shared a concern about Iraq's growing bellicosity. The visit led to the creation of a joint ministerial committee to further cooperation in the economic, industrial, petroleum, energy, agricultural, education, and information fields. (At the beginning of April 1991, after the war, Mubarak and Assad met again in Cairo and announced their opposition to breaking up Iraq.) In mid-October Libyan president Muammar al Qadhafi visited Cairo, as an aftermath of which a number of cooperation agreements were also signed.
A further indication of the new alignment was the majority vote in early September of League of Arab States (Arab League) members to return Arab League headquarters to Cairo. Egypt had been expelled from the Arab League in 1979 after signing the peace treaty with Israel. Readmitted to the Arab League proper in 1989, Egypt had subsequently joined several League-affiliated bodies such as the Arab Atomic Energy Organization and the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries. The vote indicated the split in the organization because only twelve of the twenty-one members, those supporting the condemnation of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, sent their foreign ministers to the Cairo meeting; representatives of Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, among others, were conspicuously absent.
The rift was underscored by Egypt's announcement of its decision in mid-September not to participate further in the Arab Cooperation Council, a primarily economic body formed in 1989 by Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen, prior to the May 1990 union of North and South Yemen). In December Mubarak proposed the creation of a new Arab alliance consisting of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, presumably as a replacement for the Arab Cooperation Council, and warned pro- Iraqi Sudan that Egypt would act if Iraqi weapons were transferred there.
Whereas it supported the United States, Egypt's stance in the Persian Gulf crisis was a moderate one. It advocated the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait, but in early November 1990, Mubarak sent word to President Bush that sanctions should be given two to three more months to work before any military attack on Iraq. In a speech to the joint session of the People's Assembly and the Consultative Council on January 24, 1991, Mubarak stated that he had made twenty-six unavailing appeals to Saddam Husayn and had eventually sent a force of 35,000 Egyptians to Saudi Arabia in conformity with the provisions of the Arab Mutual Defense Pact signed in 1950. Also in January, Mubarak sent Minister of Foreign Affairs Ismat Abdul Majid to Washington with a message indicating, among other points, that if Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, Egypt considered Saddam Husayn's remaining in power acceptable.
As the war was ending, Mubarak again addressed a joint legislative session on March 3, 1991. He stated that Egypt was prepared to help rebuild Iraq as well as Kuwait with Egyptian labor and set forth a nine-point program, which he described as a "pan-Arab appeal." The points included that there should be no vengeance, that border disputes must be settled, that the Middle East must be freed of weapons of mass destruction, that the Arab- Israeli dispute must be settled, and that the basis for participation of all Arab citizens in democracy should be expanded. As time passed, however, Egypt became disillusioned by the responses of Kuwait, particularly, and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia to Egypt's offers of manpower assistance. Egypt had agreed to serve with Syria in a Persian Gulf peacekeeping force proposed by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, in accordance with the Damascus Declaration of March 6. Kuwait had made public promises to grant contracts to Egyptian firms and to hire Egyptian workers for its reconstruction efforts. It granted minimal awards to Egypt, however, and implied that Egyptians were fit only for menial labor. In addition, Kuwait indicated its preference for United States rather than Egyptian troops on its territory.
Informed observers believed that Mubarak's announcement on April 8 that Egyptian forces would be withdrawn from the Persian Gulf was the cumulative result of these factors. The United States was shocked by Mubarak's decision and expressed its displeasure to Kuwait, indicating that only a minimal number of United States forces would remain in the area. As a result of United States pressure, Kuwait modified its position, and Egypt agreed in principle with United States secretary of defense Richard B. Cheney to send peacekeeping and border patrol troops to Kuwait. In mid-June the number of such troops remained to be worked out, but Mubarak's visit to Kuwait on July 18 indicated that relations between the two countries had improved. Other evidence of improved Egyptian relations with all Arab states was the unanimous election of Ismat Abdul Majid as secretary general of the Arab League in May.
In the broader international sphere, Secretary of State Baker paid several post-Persian Gulf war visits to Cairo in the first half of 1991, and Egypt was among the first Arab states to indicate its acceptance of the Baker plan for a twofold approach to Middle East talks. The plan proposed that the United States and the Soviet Union jointly sponsor an opening session to be followed by direct negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. On July 19, in a further step toward easing Middle East tensions, Mubarak proposed that Israel suspend the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, in return for which the Arab states would end their economic boycott of Israel. Saudi Arabia and Jordan soon afterward indicated agreement with this proposal.
Mubarak's domestic policy has been summarized as one of limited liberalization, limited Islamization, and limited repression. These three factors all impinged on national security, a sphere in which Mubarak emphasized the maintenance of domestic stability, probably a more important concern after the 1979 peace treaty with Israel than external threats. Egypt had a professional officer corps but a shortage of well trained enlisted personnel, especially noncommissioned officers, because of the attraction of higher paying civilian employment. Conscripts, based on the 1955 National Military Service Law, served for three years in one of the four services: army, navy, air force, or Air Defense Force, or they might be assigned to the police, prison guard service, or the military economic service. Until the Persian Gulf crisis of late 1990-91, the last war in which the armed services had seen action was the October 1973 War.
Egypt's defense spending was proportionately less than that of most Middle Eastern countries, but it represented 11 percent of gross national product (GNP) in 1987, or 32 percent of total government spending. In addition, Egypt benefited to a substantial degree from foreign military assistance. From 1955 to 1975, this aid came primarily from the Soviet Union, with the result that Egypt had much Soviet military equipment in its inventory. From the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1979 onward, the United States became Egypt's main military supplier, and the orientation of the armed forces became Western. Egypt's defense industry was the largest in the Arab world, producing arms, ammunition, artillery, and other military goods and assembling aircraft and armored vehicles for domestic use or export to Third World countries.
With reference to internal security, the military were called out to join the police and the paramilitary police, the Central Security Forces (CSF), to suppress dissent when occasions warranted. This occurred during the 1977 food riots and the 1986 riots by the CSF. The police and intelligence services kept a watchful eye on rightwing Islamic groups, of which the Muslim Brotherhood was the chief, but Al Jihad was one of the most extreme--the organization's leader in Bani Suwayf in Upper Egypt was killed in a riot in late June 1991. Left-wing factions were kept under surveillance as well, although the Communist Party of Egypt had been officially banned since the early 1950s. Former Minister of Interior General Zaki Badr was responsible for the arrest of as many as 20,000 persons charged with being dissidents during his four-year tenure; this figure included arrests in April 1989 of 1,500 persons accused of acts of Muslim extremism against Christian churches and businesses. Moreover, human rights organizations brought accusations of torture on a regular basis against Egypt's internal security forces. Mubarak relieved Badr of his post in early January 1990; his successor, General Muhammad Abd al Halim Musa, stated that he considered the opposition to be "part of the mechanism" of government. This statement encouraged popular hope for a more liberal internal security policy. Restrictions remained, however, and in September 1990, a group of Muslim activists and leftists was barred by the government from traveling to Iraq and Saudi Arabia on a peace mission.
Part of Egypt's internal security concern related to its neighbor to the south, Sudan, which staged a massive pro-Iraqi demonstration in Khartoum on January 19, just after the Persian Gulf war began. Egyptian security forces had been keeping a watchful eye on a number of Sudanese activists, and 500 of them were rounded up and deported on January 23 as representing a threat to Egyptian security. Although public demonstrations have been outlawed in Egypt, about 2,000 Cairo University students staged an antiwar demonstration on February 24, which Cairo police broke up with tear gas. No serious injuries were reported.
The government's continuing concern over national security was but one aspect of the problems posed by the Persian Gulf war. The war had far-reaching political, economic, and diplomatic implications for Egypt's future. In mid-July 1991, it remained to be seen whether Egypt would continue to evolve democratic political institutions, to reform governmental administrative structures, and to promote economic reforms designed to further agricultural and industrial development. Also in question was whether Egypt could resume the position of Arab leadership it had gained under Nasser, now that Syria's Hafiz al Assad was reasserting his regional leadership role, and whether the realignment resulting from the war would work in Egypt's favor.
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