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Egyptians would like a better Mubarak

Published Oct. 4, 2005

In the sweltering heat of Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is going through his hottest political summer since he stepped in to fill the void when Anwar Sadat was assassinated 14 years ago.

When Mubarak took office in October 1981, he was seen as a healer for Egypt dedicated to eliminating layers of repressive measures by his predecessor.

But especially in the last year, Mubarak himself has become the focus of much discontent by vast segments of Egyptian society.

That discontent was interrupted, if only briefly, by a swell of support when he returned unharmed and triumphant after an assassination attempt in Ethiopia one week ago.

In recent months, opposition parties, speaking for large segments of Egyptian society, have criticized officials for corrupt practices and the government for refusing to credibly prosecute the officials or end their practices.

The battle to control armed Muslim fundamentalist groups, which have killed more than 700 people in attacks on foreigners, officials, intellectuals and others, has been a burden to the Mubarak government the past two years.

And Mubarak has been criticized for a strict new law that provides up to 15 years in jail for libel _ a word that is interpreted broadly in Egypt _ against the president, his family, Cabinet members and their families.

But after attackers fired into Mubarak's motorcade with automatic weapons, the criticism was displaced by a genuine fear that Egypt would find itself drifting into chaos without a president.

The notion that foreign powers, presumably Sudan and Ethiopia, were trying to assassinate a national symbol generated sympathy and support. Mubarak's skillful information minister and closest adviser, Safwat Asharif, quickly parlayed those sentiments into a national feast of adulation on television and radio.

But even between the lines of poetry and praise, there were familiar themes: be fair; root out corruption; listen to your people; clean up your government.

Scores of delegations came into the presidential palace. Many passed along their advice, enveloped in congratulatory messages. And many said that the fact that they had come did not mean their political positions had softened.

"I hope he will change," said Adel Hussein, editor of the pro-Islamist opposition newspaper Al Shaab. "The problem is that those around him have convinced him his safety and future are better assured by hanging on to these tired faces and their tired policies of repression and more repression, which has become the common denominator in all policy decisions."

These sentiments were echoed Sunday in a blunt piece of advice to Mubarak on the front page of Egypt's largest-circulation weekly, Akbar Al Yom, which has more than 5-million readers. It told the president to get new blood into his government.

It came from Ahmad Ragab, one of the most widely read commentators, who wrote in his weekly, snappy front-page column: "It is high time that those who occupy such sensitive positions and are trying to isolate the president by issuing chaotic decisions or cooking up evil laws, leave their posts."