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Democracy update from Egypt

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Credit: Wissam Nassar/Xinhua/Photoshot/Newscom

(Read caption) Protesters chant slogans in Cairo on Sunday as they march following a reported attack by security forces in Tahrir Square on April 9.

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Recently back from Cairo, Sherif Mansour talked with me last week about Egypt's democratic revolution. Mr. Mansour runs the Egypt program for Freedom House, the nonprofit watchdog group based in Washington that monitors freedom around the world.

On the state of the revolution so far: "The main idea is that people are still taking it to the street," and that makes him hopeful, said Mr. Mansour. On Friday, Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square in Cairo in the largest numbers since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11. Tens of thousands gathered to demand that the interim ruling military council investigate Mr. Mubarak's wealth.

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In apparent response, the prosecutor general of Egypt on Sunday announced that he had summoned Mubarak and his two sons for questioning on embezzlement allegations. The deposed president had just issued a televised statement, recorded on Saturday, denying that he had used his office to amass wealth.

Demonstrations are the only tool that citizens have to influence the government until parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for September. Egypt is in "a period of confusion," Mansour observed. "The military council caused it by being confused themselves," he explained. The council is perpetuating the confusion through reported military attacks on the protesters, people they are supposed to protect. At least one person was killed at the Friday demonstration.

On the protesters' efforts to organize for elections: "There is a great opening in the system," Mansour said. Egyptian pro-democracy groups are for the first time "able to organize public activities on their own." They are also realizing "they need to work together" to prepare for the parliamentary and presidential elections.

The groups support international monitors to observe the voting, and "there are some signs that the government wants this as well," said Mansour. But, he added, there's a "lack of knowledge about how this happens and what it entails." For instance, "they don't know they need to contact" international monitors; that the monitors require adequate advance notice to prepare; and that monitors must have a "a clear mandate" to do their job.

Meanwhile, American and European organizations are meeting various Egyptian political groups. Some travel bans are still preventing certain outsiders from traveling to Egypt. "It's not based on judicial review. There are just some security people putting down notes, not allowing these people" into the country.

On what the United States should do: The political parties and partners that Mansour met with believe the Pentagon should use its contacts and leverage with the Egyptian military to "open their horizon" to include the pro-democracy groups. They want the military council to talk with them and involve them in the transition agenda, Mansour said.

As for aid, Mansour expects "a lot of money pooled" from the European Union and Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. "The US is a little behind in terms of funding flexibility," he said.