Re-invigorating the ruling
Economic issues look set to top the NDP's Higher Council for Policies agenda. Gamal Essam El-Din reports
Chaired by Gamal Mubarak, President Hosni Mubarak's 39-year-old son, the ruling National Democratic Party's Higher Council for Policies will meet on 26 January to discuss a list of proposals aimed at liberalising the national economy and enhancing the party's performance. Topping this list are a number of bills to be submitted to the People's Assembly, as well as Egypt's partnership agreement with Europe, and the restructuring of the nation's fiscal and monetary policies.
The 125-member council, which is affiliated to the NDP's policy secretariat, was formed on 4 November to debate policies, bills and recommendations proposed by the party's general secretariat and congress. The council's first meeting was held on 28 November. According to Gamal Mubarak, the meeting focused on a variety of urgent economic issues such as tax reform, reinforcing the performance of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) and giving a boost to trade liberalisation in terms of ratifying the partnership between Egypt and the European Union (EU). Galal El-Zorba, a major exporter and a member of the council, said the partnership with the EU should be seen by MPs as a challenge, rather than a threat.
The council meeting also ended up appointing heads for its six affiliated committees. These include Mahmoud Mohieddin (Economic Affairs), Hossam Badrawi (education), Madiha Khattab (Health), Mustafa El-Fiqi (Foreign Affairs), Mohamed Kamal (Youth) and Yomna El-Hamaki (Women).
NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif, meanwhile, announced that the council's next meeting will debate means of putting its "new way of thinking" into action. "This will be the task of the council's six committees. People will no longer wonder about the NDP's presence at the street-level. The party will be very close to the people as it explains its new way of thinking and improves their lives in every possible way," El-Sherif said.
NDP provincial secretaries, according to El- Sherif, will shoulder most of the responsibility for improving the party's image, disseminating its ideology and attracting new members to its cadres.
Family planning is to feature strongly in the NDP's awareness-raising campaign in the coming period. The People's Assembly has joined ranks with the NDP by forming an ad hoc committee on family planning headed by deputy speaker Amal Osman.
In spite of all the talk of modernisation, however, observers expressed reservations about the NDP's performance. They argued that the party's ranks are still raging with internal conflicts and rampant corruption.
In this respect, observers cite two cases. The first took place two weeks ago when two members of the Shura Council -- parliament's consultative upper house -- became embroiled in a very public and verbal clash over differing viewpoints regarding the NDP's secretary for the upper Egypt governorate of Sohag, Ahmed Abdel-Aal. Abdel-Aal is accused of running the party's office for his personal interests.
The second case took place at the People's Assembly's legislative and constitutional committee, which ordered Abdel-Wahab Qouta, an NDP heavyweight and Port Said iron magnate, to testify on corruption charges. Qouta is accused of obtaining hefty loans from Misr Exterior Bank without offering adequate collateral in return. Qouta allegedly made use of his personal relationship with Abdallah Tayel, the former chairman of parliament's economic committee and another NDP stalwart, to obtain the loans. Tayel, Misr Exterior's ex-chairman, was remanded into custody two months ago pending investigation into charges of banking fraud and graft. Standing before the legislative committee, Qouta argued that it was actually his son who obtained the loans from Misr Exterior Bank.