The promise of change
Gamal Mubarak outlines strategies intended to make the NDP's platform "acceptable to all Egyptians", reports Dina Ezzat
Greater civil liberties and better public services were promised this week by Gamal Mubarak, chairman of the influential Policy Secretariat of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
Speaking on Monday at a special luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham), Gamal Mubarak said that the NDP's first annual conference, scheduled to open tomorrow, will act upon its slogan "New Thinking and the Rights of Citizens First".
"Putting change into action is what we are about to be doing," Mubarak stressed. And the changes, he argued, will be designed "and will be implemented" to afford a better life for Egyptian citizens throughout the country.
Of the long list of political and socio- economic issues to be addressed by the three-day NDP conference, the chairman of the NDP's Policy Secretariat said, three issues will receive the lion's share of attention -- citizenship and democracy, public transport and management of agricultural land. "These are major challenges that we are faced with and with which we have to deal," he stressed.
In his 20-minute speech and 45-minute question-and-answer session, Mubarak, the 39-year son of President Hosni Mubarak, said that women will be given more civil rights, particularly in relation to such thorny issues as the hitherto denied right of Egyptian women to pass on their nationality to children of foreign fathers. Public transport policy, an issue that affects millions of Egyptians, is to be completely overhauled with the aim of improving service provision and ensuring better value for money. And "scarce agricultural land, which is one of the country's most important assets" is to be better managed, the aim being to eliminate wasteful practices and to prevent the spread of unplanned urban development.
"We have a set of specific recommendations that have been drafted by the Policy Secretariat. These will be presented to the party conference and will hopefully receive its approval," Mubarak said. He added that he was hopeful that once the ruling party adopts these recommendations they will be taken up by the government and promptly implemented.
A total of 2,200 NDP members will be attending the three-day conference, which runs from 26-28 September. NDP Chairman President Hosni Mubarak will open the conference on Friday.
The chairman of the Policy Secretariat will address the party's first session on the performance of the NDP's 12 secretariats and the coordination that has been taking place between the party and the government.
"Like the rest of the world Egypt is facing serious challenges," Mubarak said. "Change", he prescribed, is the best way for the country to deal with the daunting economic and political hurdles that confront it.
Facilitating change has been a key issue for Mubarak for some time. During an address given at the American University in Cairo (AUC) last May he already trailed a dramatic shift in NDP ideology. The party, he said then, was in the throes of transformation.
At the AmCham on Monday, Mubarak admitted that implementing the changes he viewed as essential would be no easy task. "Sometimes people like what they have," he said. Alluding to NDP members resistant to the pragmatism which he sees as essential to the development of the party, Mubarak said that "when you start change sometimes people feel threatened."
Mubarak insisted that the NDP must be resolute in implementing the schemes necessary if the ruling party is to develop a coherent platform that is clear and acceptable to all Egyptians, "even the apolitical".
Mubarak joined the NDP General Secretariat in 2000. Last year, during the eighth congress of the party -- an event that takes place once every five years -- he was elected chair of the Policy Secretariat established by the Congress, since when he has been perceived, both within and outside Egypt, as the party's "second man".
Mubarak's appointment as chairman of the Policy Secretariat inevitably gave rise to speculation that he was being groomed to take over from his father. Asked about such rumours during the AmCham luncheon, Mubarak said: "This is a classic question to which I will give the answer I have rehearsed hundreds of times: my focus is change in the NDP. We are focussed on policies and strategies, not on individuals."
Indeed, Mubarak was keen throughout the question-and-answer session to clarify any confusion that might surround his position. Questioned by guests of AmCham about Egypt's foreign and economic policy his answers inevitably began with a phrase to distance himself from the government: "These are questions that require officials' response. What I can give is the party's point of view."