NDP reacts coolly to boycott call
The decision by three major opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood to boycott the 25 May referendum met with a lukewarm reaction from the NDP, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The face-off between the NDP and opposition forces over political reform escalated this week with three opposition parties calling on Tuesday for a boycott of the 25 May referendum on the amendment of Article 76 of the constitution. The amendment, rubber stamped by the NDP-dominated People's Assembly on 10 May, makes it all but impossible for independent candidates to run in the forthcoming presidential elections, and restricts official parties' chances of fielding a candidate in 2011.
Meeting on Tuesday the three main opposition parties -- the liberal- oriented Al-Wafd, the leftist Tagammu and the Pan-Arabist Nasserist -- made a rare show of unity. They condemned "the insistence of the ruling National Democratic Party on killing any hopes that might have been borne of President Hosni Mubarak's 26 February proposal to amend Article 76 of the constitution".
A joint-statement, read by Rifaat El- Said, chairman of the Tagammu, said the call for a boycott had been prompted not only by the restrictions on candidates contained in the amendment but also because it opens a door wide to the manipulation of parliamentary elections in favour of the ruling party. Nomaan Gomaa, chairman of the Wafd Party, said that the three parties intended to send photographers to polling stations to demonstrate how few people actually vote.
The three parties also announced an end to their participation in national dialogue meetings. The dialogue, they said, originally intended to foster consensus over political reform, had turned into a farce.
The phrasing of the referendum ballot also came in for heavy criticism.
"The referendum," said El-Said "should ask voters whether they agree to the amendment passed by the People's Assembly rather than simply ask them whether they agree to Article 76 of the constitution being amended."
"All Egypt agrees to the amending of Article 76 in principle. What people object to is the way in which the People's Assembly have made the amendment meaningless."
The boycott call was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. An hour before the beginning of the opposition meeting the Brotherhood issued a statement declaring its own boycott. The Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mahdi Akef, said his movement had decided on a boycott in solidarity with other opposition forces.
AFP reported the group was forced to make a separate announcement after the secular Tagammu opposed the inclusion in the joint statement.
Diaa Rashwan, a researcher at Al- Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Ahram Weekly the Brotherhood boycott was widely anticipated.
"The restrictions on candidacy," said Rashwan, "appear to particularly target the Brotherhood's hopes of fielding a presidential candidate."
Calls for a boycott were first voiced by Kifaya, the Egyptian Movement for Change. George Ishak, the movement's coordinator, said Kifaya's reaction to the amendment will not be confined to a boycott call.
"We aim to organise a campaign of civil disobedience prior to both the 25 May referendum and presidential elections next March," Ishak told the Weekly.
While many commentators have been struck by the show of unity between opposition forces, few expect it to last. "The problem," says Rashwan, "is that opposition has a long tradition: they disagree as quickly as they unite."
Division between the three opposition parties emerged over the issue of international monitoring of Egyptian elections. El-Said said his party objected to any form of international monitoring. "Monitors were paid money in Ukraine in order to manipulate election results in favour of the US-supported candidate," El-Said said.
Diaa Dawoud, leader of the Nasserists, said his party would be happy for the elections to be monitored by the United Nations.
Calls for a boycott cannot be making Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif's current visit to the US any easier, given that the aim of the trip is to ease tensions between Egypt and America over the progress of political reform. Hardly surprising, then, that the NDP quickly swung into damage limitation mode. Safwat El-Sherif, NDP secretary-general and chairman of the Shura Council, declared "to those who claim the referendum day will be a funeral day, I say it will be a day of national honour". Addressing a Cairo rally of NDP junior leaders on Tuesday, El-Sherif argued that "the call for a boycott reflects a negative attitude".
The NDP made public a series of initiatives aimed at absorbing any negative impact that might be caused by the opposition's boycott call. These include organising rallies in support of the 25 May referendum and next September's presidential election and mobilising the state media in favour of the referendum.