By Salama A Salama
The week of reform, with its modest results, has ended. The attention of the ruling National Democratic Party and the government is now diverted to implementing new economic and technical decisions which, it would seem, were issued 10 years too late.
The political parties in turn have been split by their disagreements and defections. This, after they issued their "comprehensive declaration" demanding everything and offering nothing. One of the most amusing aspects of this declaration is that it laments that the opposition had previously issued similar declarations and documents to no avail. What then, one may ask, is the use yet one more?
No consensus has been reached to define reform. No answer has been made to the question posited since 1989 -- should priority be given to economic reform or political reform or should both go hand in hand? This might suggest that the political arena has reached a degree of sterility obstructing any real progress. Seventeen years have passed and the opposition has not changed its tactics. Just like the government, the opposition is leading the people to an abyss of disappointment, negativity and a lack of trust in political leadership.
In all the years past the opposition has done nothing but issue fiery declarations while doing nothing to pressure the government into changing course. Political parties depended on the government's support and bribes in concluding petty political deals allowing the entry of some of its members into parliament. An exception has been the Wafd and Al- Tagammu' parties which were left space to manoeuvre within certain social segments. None of the other parties succeeded in gaining authentic popularity. The reason in my view lies in the Political Parties Law which is currently being amended. The law allows parties to continue operating whether or not they gain a certain percentage of votes during elections. Political parties have thus proliferated like mushrooms, becoming a source of lucrative benefit for opportunists. If clean and honest elections were held we would be rid of futile parties which fill the arena. We don't need a Political Parties Committee for this to happen, nor the partisan scandals abounding in our courts.
Concerning reform, opposition parties failed to unify their ranks, specifically on whether the Muslim Brotherhood should join their alliance. While I personally oppose the formation of a political party by the Brotherhood, I believe political Islam must be represented in public life, with rules regulating it as a political, non-religious party. The opposition should have settled this issue and should not have allowed the government to capitalise on the dispute.
The real challenge facing the opposition parties is the success of the wing led by Gamal Mubarak within the NDP. Observers say Mubarak the son has succeeded in forming a reformist group which took charge of administering the NDP conference. They see that he has, by postponing political reforms, ensured President Mubarak's re-election for another five years during which he will have time to rebuild the NDP and get rid of the old guard who petrified the party for so many years. He will succeed in reaching the top of the political ladder by democratic means. Meanwhile, the leaders of the opposition, its old men, will tremble as they hold on to skeletons which will surely give way. This is the challenge the opposition forces will face.