Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday told his country to prepare for elections in 2011 and hinted that the next round of voting could be a little more democratic than in the past.
Mubarak, who has ruled almost unchallenged for 29 years, said in an interview with Egypt's police news magazine that presidential elections would be open to all comers.
"Anyone who can bring benefit to Egypt and its people" could take part, he said.
Separate elections for Egypt's parliament would take place in 2010, the the 82-year-old president added.
"We want elections to be free and fair, bringing a new constituent that will reflect the will of the voters and prepare political parties for the presidential contest in 2011," he said.
Mubarak gave no indication of his own candidacy in 2011, acknowledging the importance of the "young generation" in Egyptian politics but adding that he was committed to fulfilling commitments made at the time of the last election in 2005, in which he won 88.6 percent of the vote.
"We have already come a long way toward meeting our goals in terms of improving infrastructure and the socio-economic situation across the country, particularly in rural areas," he said.
Elections in Egypt have in the past been carefully skewed towards the ruling National Democractic Party. A nominally independent monitoring committee is tasked with ensuring fair voting but is, according to a 2008 report by Global Integrity, an NGO, "no more than a decoration for counterfeiting elections".
Free voting in Egypt would almost certainly result in an increased mandate for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist opposition group banned as a political party, whose candidates are subject to tight restrictions and currently may run only as independents.
Despite Mubarak's public commitments to freer elections, the president is widely belived to be grooming his son Gamal, who is already a powerful figure within the ruling party to succeed him.
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