Court battles keep Egypt’s Nour from vote campaign

Court battles keep Egypt’s Nour from vote campaign
By Edmund Blair
Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour began the parliamentary election campaign with a hectic schedule. But he wasn’t busy winning over voters.

The leader of the Ghad (Tomorrow) party was fighting legal battles which his party says the state has timed to derail his campaign for the parliamentary polls in November and dissipate the momentum he gained by coming second in a September presidential race.

In a single week at the end of October, Nour was tied up with three days of court hearings in Cairo and another day of questioning in a separate criminal case in the Nile Delta city of Benha, although the charges against him in the Benha case have now been dropped.

“I cannot be available for the election campaign. This is not possible. Every day there is a hearing,” Nour told Reuters at one session in the Cairo court, where he faces charges of using forged documents to set up his party about a year ago.

The Ghad Party has been trying to build on Nour’s political momentum since he secured second place — with 8 percent of the votes — behind President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential race in September.

“What is happening is that they are exhausting Ayman and the close circle around him by daily interrogations in different cities and towns around Egypt,” Ghad Deputy Chairman Mazen Mostafa told Reuters.

Besides the Cairo court hearings and the Benha questioning, Nour’s lawyer Amir Salem said opponents had tried to raise new suits against him, alleging Nour insulted the president and his National Democratic Party (NDP). Salem said such suits were unlikely to go far but were still a distraction.

Mostafa said such frustrations were forcing the party to mature more quickly — “being cooked in a microwave, instead of a natural oven,” he says — in case Nour ends up in jail again.

Nour, who is seeking re-election to his Cairo parliamentary seat, was detained for six weeks this year in connection with the forgery case. The United States called for his release.

The government has said Nour’s trial is a purely judicial matter. It has promised free and fair parliamentary polls. Voting will be held in three stages starting in November and lasting until early December.


Ghad has six members of parliament and Mostafa expects it to win more than 20 seats in these elections. Only the banned Muslim Brotherhood controls a bigger opposition bloc. The NDP has more than 85 percent of the 444 elected seats.

Parliamentary polls have extra significance this year because a constitutional change means parties can field a candidate in future presidential races only if they have won 5 percent of the seats in parliament in the previous elections. No opposition party meets that requirement now.

Alongside his legal battles, Nour has had to deal with internal party dissent led by Moussa Mustafa Moussa, his former deputy who claimed the leadership and even printed a rival newspaper with the same masthead as the original Ghad weekly.

In at least one constituency, two Ghad candidates — one from Nour’s Ghad and one from the rival group — are competing.

Nour’s supporters say this is another state-inspired effort to undermine the party. Analysts also see state interference.

“We do have also a legacy or heritage of state intervention in the internal affairs of various parties,” said Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of Cairo’s Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Nevertheless, Said said Nour had aggravated his problems by failing to impose more party discipline.

“Ayman Nour proved to be lacking in the power to maintain the consistency, or maintain the unity of this party,” he said.

Mona Makram-Ebeid, who resigned from Ghad’s leadership this year, said a lack of party unity prompted her departure and said Nour had tried to build the party too quickly.

“He (Nour) tried to get quantity before quality,” she said.

Ghad officials also complain that old parties including the Wafd, the party Nour quit to form Ghad, had blocked them from joining an opposition alliance to fight the elections.

However, Makram-Ebeid said Nour was a “brilliant parliamentarian” with a capacity to surprise. “Ayman always bounces back, I don’t know how, but he does,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas)