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:: Issues > Democracy
Ten years on
Ten years on
The Labour Party is back, at least according to one of its factions. Mohamed Abdel-Baky reviews the reality behind the sound-bites.
Saturday, March 6,2010 22:59
by Mohamed Abdel-Baky Al-Ahram Weekly

"We are back after 10 years, for the sake of democracy and the Egyptian people. We believe political life is in urgent need of our party's contributions at this critical juncture."

So Asmahan Shokri announced in a press conference last week. The Labour Party, she said, was back in the game after a decade long suspension.

Asmahan Shokri, the daughter of the party's founder Ibrahim Shokri, was elected by the party's Higher Committee as the Labour Party's new "temporary" chairman, replacing Mahfouz Azam, elected in August 2008 following the death of Ibrahim Shokri. The Higher Committee also elected Ahmed Shokri -- Asmahan's brother -- as secretary-general.

During the press conference Asmahan said the party's new congress was elected democratically and is the only legitimate body representing the Labour Party. She also revealed that the party had submitted a memo to the Political Parties Committee -- which froze the party 10 years ago -- informing it of the new leadership, adding that the Higher Committee had taken "the necessary measures" to ensure the Labour Party could resume political activities.

"Fifteen senior member, including Azam and former secretary-general Magdi Hussein, have been suspended and will be investigated for the damage they caused to the party. It is time for reform," the newly elected vice-president Talaat Mossalam told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The party now has two wings, one of them led by Asmahan and the other led by Azam. Each claims to be the legitimate representative of the party.

In May 2000 the Political Parties Committee -- the government-controlled body that licenses political parties and oversees their activities -- suspended the Labour Party and its mouthpiece publication, the bi-weekly Al-Shaab. Following the suspension a split occurred in the party's leadership, with Hamdi Ahmed and Ahmed Idriss both being selected, by two different party general congresses, to replace Ibrahim Shokri.

They claimed Shokri and the party's then secretary-general, Adel Hussein, had ignored any socialist platform and turned Labour into an Islamist party after forming an alliance with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

"We have got 14 court rulings in the past 10 years against the Political Parties Committee decision to suspend the party. Now we have one legitimate leader, one congress and one secretary-general, so there is no reason for the committee to ban our activities," Mossalam said.

Azam's response to moves by the rival, Asmahan's faction, was to assert that he remained the officially elected president of the Labour Party. He told the Weekly that he respects Asmahan, and will respect any decision taken by the "legal general congress" to elect a new president, but insisted that as the situation stands she was elected "illegally by an illegal congress".

"This congress has been appointed by the government to replace us. The regime wants to get rid of any Islamic trend within the party before parliamentary and residential elections. This is the fourth attempt to marginalise us since the party was suspended in 2000," claimed Azam. He warned that should the Political Parties Committee approve the request submitted by Asmahan's wing neither the public nor party members would "recognise them".

The Socialist Labour Party was founded by Ibrahim Shokri in 1978, with the backing of President Anwar El-Sadat. In 1987, however, it dropped its socialist platform in favour of an Islamist oriented manifesto.

Senior members of the new congress, such as Abul-Abbas Mohamed, do not deny that they have long tried to gain control of the party's leadership. Mohamed told the Weekly his wing had been planning its latest move for 10 months, holding weekly meetings at Shokri's house.

"Choosing a woman like Asmahan as chairman and a Copt like Assad as vice-president sends a clear message to the regime that we totally disagree with the Muslim Brotherhood and there is no way we would forge a coalition with them," Mohamed explained.

Mohamed predicts that in the next few months a new website, called Al-Shaab, will be launched to serve as a virtual platform for the party. "The next big step will be our general congress conference, scheduled for May, which will elect a new chairman and discuss the party's participation in parliamentary elections."

Observers note that the timing of the move suggests that Asmahan and co received a green light from officials for the internal party coup.

"It is common knowledge," says one informed source, "that the government placed three conditions on allowing the Labour Party to resume its activities. These include the expulsion of Magdi Hussein and Mahfouz Azam, abandoning its Islamist ideology and a boycott of the Muslim Brotherhood."

Hani Labib, a political analyst and former senior member at the Labour Party, believes two developments within spurred Asmahan's faction to act.

"The first was the death of Ibrahim Shokri in August 2008. He had long refused to condone expulsions from the party. The second was the weakening of the group led by Azam after Magdi Hussein was jailed

tags: Political Reform / Political Parties Committee / Egyptian Government / Labor Party / Sadat / Egyptian Democracy / Magdi Hussein / Political Parties
Posted in Democracy  
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