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12 - 18 October 2000
Issue No. 503
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Front Page

Nasserism's potential -- untapped

By Mona El-Nahhas

In the aftermath of the 1995 parliamentary elections, the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party got bogged down in party infighting and defections and financial crises, all of which are likely to take their toll during the forthcoming ballot.

A power struggle between the party's older and younger generations, which had been simmering for years, erupted in March 1996 when party leader Diaeddin Dawoud suspended five leading members of the younger generation for one year. According to Dawoud, they had violated the organisational rules regulating party activity. However, the younger members accused the party leadership of crude dictatorship.

Gamal Abdel-Nasser
Central Committee
A 1994 file photo of the Central Committee of the Nasserist Party showing both the old guard and the younger generation of Nasserists

Since the establishment of the party in 1992, the two factions have been at one another's throats. The old guard, or May group, whose members were put on trial by the late President Anwar El-Sadat in May 1971 and spent between three and 10 years in prison, felt the younger generation lacked political experience and was principally concerned with taking over the party leadership. The younger members, who campaigned under the banner of Nasserism as students in the 1970s and occasionally won control of student unions, insist that the old guard should relinquish their hold over the party in favour of modernisation. As a result of their suspension, the five younger Nasserists -- Hamdin Sabahi, Amin Iskandar, Salah El-Dessouki, Ali Abdel-Hamid and Shafiq El-Gazzar -- were banned from participating in the internal party elections held during late 1996, which were followed by a general congress that reaffirmed the validity of the old guard's leadership. The suspended members dismissed the election as neither free nor fair.

As a result, Sabahi and his group decided to resign from the party ranks, with the ironic consequence that when an Administrative Court ruled in their favour in September 1998 by annulling Dawoud's decision to suspend their party membership, they refused to return to the fold. Moreover, Sabahi initiated action to establish a new Nasserist party that would include all Nasserist elements excluded from Dawoud's party. According to Amin Iskandar, the establishment of a new party became necessary after a large number of Nasserists found themselves in political limbo.

Iskandar says that the new party has no intention of competing with Dawoud's group, "because it will be a national, and not simply a Nasserist, party." However, before deciding who to compete against, he will first have to get legality for the new party. His request to obtain a licence under the name Al-Karama (Dignity) was turned down by the Political Parties Committee, a government-controlled body. Sabahi is planning to contest the Committee's decision in court.

"Our differences with Dawoud arise from his insistence on taking unilateral decisions, regardless of the opinion of the majority of party members," Sabahi commented. He described Dawoud's decision to freeze the membership of the five as "lacking legitimacy. We did not commit any organisational violations. We only called for the dismissal of Mahmoud El-Maraghi from the post he then held as chief editor of the party's mouthpiece Al-Arabi after the newspaper's circulation dropped." However, according to Hamed Mahmoud, the party's deputy secretary-general, the decision was legal because it was approved by 27 members of the general secretariat and opposed by only three members.

Sabahi was not the only Nasserist who attempted to establish a political party. In March 2000, another group managed to establish a new party under the name Al-Wifaq Al-Qawmi (National Conciliation). Mohamed Aql and Abdallah Shoheib, the new party's founders, are supporters of Farid Abdel-Karim, a former high official of Nasser's Arab Socialist Union, who was Dawoud's rival for leadership of the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party in 1992.

In addition to the power struggle, the party faced another problem in 1997 when two of its founders, Mohamed Fawzi and Sami Sharaf, respectively defence minister and minister of presidential affairs under Nasser, walked out in protest against a book authored by party member Abdallah Imam. They claimed the book, The Intelligence, the Revolution and the Setback, tarnished the image of Nasser and his men. It is based on a number of interviews with Salah Nasr, head of the intelligence service under Nasser, in which Nasr blamed Nasser, Fawzi and Sharaf for the June 1967 defeat. The resignation of Fawzi and Sharaf was viewed seriously by analysts because the two were an important force that had helped hold the party together.

Concerned about the party's future following Fawzi's and Sharaf's resignations, several leading figures urged the party's leadership to dismiss Imam, who had taken over from El-Maraghi as chief editor of Al-Arabi. But the leadership refused to do any such thing. In an attempt to contain the situation, and under pressure from members of the political bureau, Imam noted in the introduction to his book that he did not mean to insult Sharaf or Fawzi, and that he simply wished to convey Nasr's views without necessarily agreeing with them.

Shortly afterwards, yet another problem came to the fore, when Al-Arabi's prominent writers decided to stop making contributions to the newspaper because it published an advertisement by Saudi Prince Tork ibn Abdel-Aziz. The writers, led by Galal Aref, condemned the newspaper's defence of actions by the prince and the alleged excesses of his guards. Party leaders responded that they had no choice but to accept these advertisements because of the financial problems they were facing at the time.

The financial crisis facing the party and its mouthpiece worsened in March, with their debts reported to have exceeded LE1 million. Neither reporters nor workers received their salaries. As a way out of this situation, Dawoud surprised his colleagues at the political bureau by announcing a deal with businessman Essam Fahmi, under which Fahmi took liability for the newspaper's debts in return for being able to manage the newspaper and supervise its advertisement section.

Party members reacted angrily, opposing the privatisation of the newspaper, which started publishing in 1993. They viewed the deal as unprecedented in the history of political parties and warned that Fahmi would bring in advertisements that might contradict the party's policies. "How can we sell our newspaper when the party has been opposing privatisation for eight years?" was the refrain from party members who felt that the party risked losing its credibility. "It would be better for us to close the newspaper, rather than sell out our principles," they insisted.

Dawoud abandoned the idea of selling the newspaper, and looked for other ways out of his predicament. One of them was to stop publishing the daily edition, started in April 1999, and instead produce the newspaper as a weekly. It appeared in this new form in April 2000. Abdallah Imam was replaced last May by Abdallah El-Sennawi, as chief editor, and Abdel-Halim Qandil, as executive chief editor.

Due to continuing financial crises, the participation of the Nasserist Party in the coming parliamentary elections will be very limited. Only 40 candidates, out of a claimed membership of 60,000, will run for election in 18 governorates. A large number of potential candidates withdrew because of the party's inability to support them financially. The party's list of candidates did not include names of women or Copts.

The party's platform does not differ much from that of 1995. In line with its Nasserist ideology, it stands firmly against privatising public sector companies, arguing that this leads to an increase in unemployment. It warns against the dominance of capital on the grounds that it results in social imbalance and poverty. It stresses the necessity of improving the living standards of the under-privileged and condemns corruption in the banking sector.

The platform also calls for greater freedom and democracy, and for more than one candidate to run in the presidential elections. The emergency law should be abolished and restrictions on the formation of political parties should be lifted. The party is a strong champion of turning Nasser's dream of Arab unity into reality by strengthening relations between countries of the "golden triangle," namely Egypt, Libya and Sudan. On foreign relations, the party opposes American hegemony over the Middle East and the normalisation of relations with Israel.

Related stories:
Nasserism, 90s style 9 - 15 November 1995
See Elections 2000, The 1995 Elections
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