• Arts
  • September 29, 2007
  • 5 minutes read

Egypt’s NDP votes amid turmoil

Egypt’s NDP votes amid turmoil

Beset by rumors of his failing health, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak”s government is seeking to clamp down on the opposition media and political groups as it goes to the polls amid growing popular discord.

Despite rumors to the contrary, National Democratic Party (NDP) cadres are expected to confirm the 79-year-old president as party chair at the upcoming party congress in November, delaying the inevitable choice of a successor.

Many analysts believe that Mubarak”s son Gamal is being groomed to take over from his father at the next presidential election, which is currently scheduled for 2011 but may be pushed forward if rumors of the president”s ill health are borne out.

The three-stage internal NDP elections, reportedly involving up to 1.1 million party members, continued this week with polls at the governate level. They are designed to bring an infusion of new blood into the party, setting the stage for the NDP”s ninth congress.

The polls look set to shape voting blocs for the meeting, in which delegates will vote for the first time for the party chair and the party”s central decision-making bodies: the 29-member general secretariat and 13-strong politburo.

Speaking to the daily Al-Ahram, independent MP Gamal Zahran alleged that the surprise decision to maintain the right of the president to nominate chairs of the 28 NDP provincial offices – and his untrammeled right under party rules to nominate politburo and secretariat members – demonstrated that the NDP was not serious about opening higher positions to meaningful democratic contest.

The head of Mubarak”s staff, Zakaria Azmi, appeared to confirm that there would be no run-off for the NDP leadership, claiming the existence of a consensus within the party on the re-election of the president as party head.

The NDP congressional ballots will be watched closely by analysts for signs that the group of younger cadres associated with Gamal are asserting their dominance over proceedings, or whether a genuine opposition to the father-son succession is coalescing within the party.

It is unclear whether the president will be willing to increase speculation that Gamal will replace him by securing his election as NDP Secretary-General at the conference – a move he has appeared to baulk at in the past.

Efforts to display a patina of democratic process within the NDP stand in stark contrast to an ongoing crackdown on the opposition media and political parties.

Four editors of independent Egyptian tabloid publications were sentenced to one year in jail and LE20,000 (US$3,500) fines on 20 September after being found guilty of insulting the president and the “symbols” of the NDP in recent stories that included pieces alleging Mubarak was in waning health.

A military tribunal – acting under newly passed, constitutionally mandated powers allowing the president to choose which judicial bodies will hear sensitive cases – is hearing the cases of 40 Muslim Brotherhood members charged with money laundering.

The Brotherhood members were picked up during a series of arrest sweeps in recent months that have seen the detention of several hundred members of the banned Islamic movement. The recurrent arrest raids have targeted leaders and financiers of the organization, which, through independents, snared 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

The government refused this week to allow the Brotherhood to hold its traditional Iftar celebration – a meal marking the end of the daily Ramadan fast. This gathering has become an annual show of strength for the movement and the refusal to countenance the celebration shows the lengths authorities are willing to go to in order to prevent the Brotherhood from enjoying a public platform.

The opposition united for the first time in March in a mass parliamentary walkout over constitutional amendments strengthening presidential prerogatives and limiting judicial oversight of elections.

These political machinations are occurring against a societal background blighted by a series of scandals involving security force abuses; a Bedouin protest movement in the Sinai against alleged mistreatment and state bias; and a wave of labor unrest marked by a series of large-scale strikes.

On Friday, 27,000 textile workers in the northern town of Mahal entered their sixth day of strike action, claiming US$10 million they believe is owed them in back wages by the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company.

Ultimately, the Mubarak government has no interest in fostering even transient alliances between opposition parties, which undermine its efforts to sideline the Brotherhood, or of fomenting a popular backlash against free market economic reforms.

On the cusp of its greatest political upheaval in a quarter century, Egypt needs to foster genuine and inclusive civil, media, political and security reforms to prevent a potentially fraught transition of power and secure the legitimacy of the current governance system.