Mubarak’s test:

The surprise announcement last weekend by President Hosni Mubarak that he will change Egypt’s Constitution to permit ‘’direct, secret balloting” for president no doubt results from the US application of diplomatic and financial pressure, but his gesture toward democratic reform should not be mistaken for the real thing. In the past, he has been the sole presidential candidate nominated by a Parliament dominated by his own ruling National Democratic Party.

He took on an active role in helping Israelis and Palestinians conduct a dialogue leading to a ceasefire and an agreement on security forces in Gaza. But at a time when 8 million Iraqis were braving Islamist and Ba’athist killers to cast ballots, when Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation were casting votes for Mahmoud Abbas, and when Lebanese were taking to the streets to demand free and fair elections this spring, it would have been inconsistent for Bush to exempt Mubarak from this wave of reform.

Attempts to nudge Mubarak toward opening Egypt’s political system will mean little if

he is re-elected with only token opposition, if he retains the state of emergency that has been in force since the 1981, and if Egypt’s press is free only to praise the president and castigate Israel. Egypt has taken only the first step on a long march toward democratic institutions. — The Boston Globe