Egypt is undergoing a heated nationwide debate over political reform. The central issue is a demand by all opposition parties and civil society groups to amend the 1971 constitution and abolish the 23-year-old State of Emergency that was imposed following Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981.
Such demands are not new. But President Hosni Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party have been stonewalling since the mid-1980's. What makes the demands for reform more pressing this time are ominous developments in Egypt, the region, and in the wider world.
At home, concern about Mubarak's age (76) and deteriorating health has grown. Mubarak's ill health, widely rumored for years, was never officially acknowledged until November 2003, when it could no longer be covered up. While speaking to Parliament, Mubarak fainted before millions of TV viewers. Although he returned an hour later and delivered the rest of his speech, Egyptians began to demand greater transparency regarding the president's health as well as other state affairs.
Meanwhile, Egypt's sagging economy, high unemployment rate, and rampant corruption have driven many Egyptian youngsters to despair. More than one half of living Egyptians were born since Mubarak assumed office. According to a recent report by the UN Development Program, roughly half of those between 15 and 30 years old dream of emigrating to Europe, North America, or Australia.