By Jade Lamb, staff editor Egypt’s decision not to allow monitors at its recent parliamentary elections bodes ill for democracy in that country. Though Egypt is no paragon of emerging democracy—Egypt has had only three presidents since the British left after World War II, and President Hosni Mubarak will probably be replaced by his son when he finally leaves office in five or ten years—election monitors can still have some positive influence.
For one-party democracies like Egypt, where the National Democratic Party will retain its fifty-year old parliamentary majority during this week’s elections, monitors know what they will find already. The NDP has a long history of arranging the arrests of its opposition when it fears losing ground, and the NDP-ruled Egyptian government controls the media. Because the NDP still enjoys a moderate level of public support and none of the opposition parties are strong enough to form a truly effective coalition, even free and fair elections are unlikely to result in a change in government. Elections monitors will certainly not change the outcome.
However, the presence of election monitors can have a positive influence on democracy in the long run. Governments are more reluctant to behave badly—at least overtly—when election monitors are watching. Impartial assessments by election monitors can publicize problems, highlight improvements, and give outside organizations a starting point to promote reform.
If election monitors can cause the NDP to win by a smaller percentage or cause fewer members of the opposition to be silenced, this small progress can lead to stronger opposition parties and freer democratic discourse in the future. Unfortunately, this future seems very far away for Egypt.