Confer and contrast

Next Saturday’s one-day conference, organised by the Policies Committee of National Democratic Party (NDP) which is headed by Gamal Mubarak, will be the third in three months. Its aim is to drum up support within the party for a raft of new legislation to be submitted to the People’s Assembly within the next two months. Leading NDP officials from the party’s secretariat-general, politburo and the People’s Assembly, as well as several cabinet ministers, are expected to attend.

NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif said on Sunday the conference will focus on key legislative reforms, including laws governing remand in custody, publication offences and the exercise of judicial authority. The conference will also discuss two new draft laws covering consumer protection and education standards.

“At the conference,” said El-Sherif, “the NDP will listen to the views of its deputies and help them reach a united stand on the new bills before they are presented to the People’s Assembly for final discussion.”

Sources within the party say there are growing fears that some parliamentary deputies might refuse to tow the party line.

“It is no secret that a number of NDP deputies are unhappy with the performance of Ahmed Nazif’s government,” said one leading member of the People’s Assembly, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Such unhappiness was crystallised in the harsh criticisms to which Nazif’s policy statement was subjected.

Many deputies — especially those who stood as independents but were later co-opted within the party’s ranks — believe current government policies prioritise the interests of big business over those of the poor.

“Aware of the growing anger NDP chairman President Hosni Mubarak had to intervene to contain the anger of deputies and ensure the statement passed smoothly in parliament,” said the NDP source.

The one-day conference, he continued, is an attempt to make sure that internal party dissent does not disrupt the current legislative programme. “It is very important for the NDP leadership that deputies adopt the party line on controversial legislation so as not to give the public the impression that the party is rife with splits.”

While the People’s Assembly will debate new bills on consumer protection and improving educational standards, next week a new anti- terror bill, widely trailed as a replacement for the 25-year-old emergency laws, is unlikely to be discussed by the Assembly in its current session.

In an interview with satellite channel Al-Arabiya, President Mubarak said drafting the anti- terror law could take up to two years. This means that the People’s Assembly will be asked to extend the state of emergency for at least that time, something the one-day conference is bound to broach as it seeks to rally support for such an extension.

The assembly’s 102 opposition and independent deputies said last week they intend to mobilise against any extension, and will publish a blacklist of any NDP deputies who nod the necessary legislation through.

“The publication of the names will allow the public to identify those of their representatives who approve that the Egyptian people should live in an eternal state of emergency, and those who reject this and support freedom and the respect of human rights,” said prominent Muslim Brotherhood MP Hamdi Hassan.

Minister of Transport Mohamed Mansour is also expected to present the conference with a report on the February sinking of the ferry Al-Salam 98 in the Red Sea.

In the meantime, the NDP is putting the final touches to a major reshuffle among the party’s officials in provincial governorates in an attempt to reinvigorate the rank and file and tackle the failings exposed by its poor showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. El-Sherif said the reshuffle is expected to involve half of all party chairmen in provincial offices in 26 governorates. “New provincial chairmen,” said El-Sherif, “will be expected to have excellent connections with the public and with civil society organisations, as well as leadership skills and the ability to instill discipline.” El-Sherif indicated the reshuffle will come into effect during the last 10 days of April.

Mohamed Allam, a People’s Assembly deputy who resigned from the ruling party a month ago, doubts it will have any impact. Such moves, he said, are determined by cronyism and business interests rather than any commitment to public service.

“It is difficult to believe that a business tycoon like Ahmed Ezz, the NDP’s newly- appointed secretary for organisational affairs, can be trusted to select the right people for the right jobs,” said Allam. It is widely believed that Ezz was appointed to the post as a reward for funding President Hosni Mubarak’s presidential election campaign.

The NDP is also busy preparing for the publication of a new mouthpiece, Al-Watani Al-Youm (NDP Today), which will replace the 27- year-old Mayo, and is scheduled to appear on the newsstands by 3 July. The paper will be edited by Mohamed Hassan El-Alfi, who has previously edited the low circulation Al-Midan and Nahdet Misr.

El-Sherif said the new paper will initially be published on a weekly basis, and eventually become a daily.