Al-Ahram Weekly Online   27 October - 2 November 2005
Issue No. 766
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In the run up to the 2005 parliamentary elections, Al-Ahram Weekly will be surveying the nation's political scene. This week Mona El-Nahhas explores the Ghad Party, interviews its parliamentary list and interviews its leader

Candidates aplenty

Does the Ghad Party have a chance in the upcoming parliamentary polls?

Attacked from all sides

One Ghad too many

The Ghad Party plans to field 200 candidates in nearly 70 per cent of the nation's districts during the upcoming parliamentary elections. The party's list of candidates appeared in its mouthpiece last week. Ghad Chairman Ayman Nour -- who will be running in the downtown Cairo district of Bab Al-Sha'riya, where he is already an MP -- topped the list.

There are 12 Copts amongst the Ghad's candidates. Three women are also on the list: lawyer Bushra Asfour, who will run in the Port Said district of Manakh; Nagat Moharam in Assuit's Bandar district; and Bothaina Zakariya in Beni Sweif's Nasser district.

The party has also managed to recruit a few of the National Democratic Party (NDP) members who were not nominated by their party. This move, however, only shows that "Nour has not learned from the lessons of the past," noted political expert Amr Hashem Rabie. "He still puts his trust in people whose allegiance to him is doubtful, and who may turn against him very soon."

Nour himself easily won the Bab Al-Sha'riya seat in both 1995 and 2000. Thanks to a bevy of services he provides the district, he is popular amongst its underprivileged inhabitants. This time, however, the battle will not be easy -- not least because of the fierce smear campaign being waged against him there by the NDP. The area's streets have been plastered with banners accusing Nour of being a US agent. According to Nour, security bodies have also been intimidating voters, ordering them to cast their votes for the NDP candidate, Yehiya Wahdan, son of former MP Sobhi Wahdan, who had previously served four terms as the district's representative.

Three of the Ghad Party's other MPs are also running for seats this time around: Abdel-Moneim El-Tunsi in Manfalout; Seif Mahmoud in Port Said's Sharq district; and Abdel-Fattah El-Shafie in Al-Gharbiya's Zefta district.

The party's deputy chairman -- Hesham Qassem -- will be running in downtown Cairo's Qasr Al-Nil district, while another member of the Ghad's higher committee -- Salah Hasaballa -- will be running in Shubra Al-Kheima.

A splinter group led by the party's former deputy chairman Moussa Mustafa Moussa, meanwhile, is fielding 65 candidates. Because of the split with Moussa, in some districts, two candidates identifying themselves as being from the Ghad Party will be contesting the same seat, a dynamic certain to confuse voters, and perhaps even turn them off the party altogether. Nour himself will be facing off against one of the dissidents -- Ibrahim Saleh, a former member of the party's higher committee -- in Bab Al-Sha'riya.

Moussa is claiming to have obtained the Higher Electoral Commission's approval for every one of his splinter group's 65 candidates' nominations.

The party will also be facing a major challenge from candidates from the united national opposition front, which chose not to extend an invitation to Nour's party to join, citing the Ghad's internal power struggle. It is clear, however, that this was not the only reason: Wafd Party Chairman Noaman Gomaa -- a longtime foe of Nour's -- played a major role in excluding the Ghad Party from the front, despite mediation efforts by the front's rapporteur, Aziz Sidqi. Nour shrugged off the slight, saying, "the alliance we formed with the public is much more important to us."

The party's primary concern right now is securing the funding necessary to undertake such a wide-ranging parliamentary campaign. This week, Nour submitted the party's application for its annual subsidy -- estimated at LE100,000 -- from the political parties committee. Complicating matters, however, was Moussa's submission of a parallel financial aid application.

When Nour placed second to President Hosni Mubarak in last month's presidential elections, there was much talk about the possibility of the year-old Ghad Party leading the opposition. Today, that scenario seems far-fetched. In fact, Nour himself seems to realise just how difficult the situation is, and has dropped much of his bravado of yore. His enthusiasm and determination have been transformed into bitterness and disappointment.

Some have compared the Ghad's problems to the crises that eventually froze the Labour and other Egyptian opposition parties. Whether or not the state will take advantage of the internal chaos to freeze the Ghad, as it did with the Islamist-oriented Labour party, remains unclear. This week, the political parties committee decided to refer the current dispute to the State Council's fatwa department for a final say. At the same time, the committee called upon the Ghad's two groups to settle their agreements peacefully and restore the party's unity.

In analyst Rabie's view, "nothing about the Ghad Party's future is clear, other than that there will continue to be a lot of obstacles in its path, all of which is sure to further weaken it."

According to Rabie, the state's hostility towards Nour stems from both the radical tone he has used to attack the regime, and the questions surrounding his connections with Europe and the US. After he was charged with forging the party's membership applications and put on trial earlier this year, Rabie said, Nour's oppositional tone -- which had been rather balanced before -- suddenly became extremely strident. "He crossed all the red lines in confronting the government, something the government could never accept," Rabie said. "Meanwhile, the US's backing of him has recently been very limited; combined with the seemingly restored warmth in Egyptian- US relations as a whole, it's the perfect opportunity for the government to do whatever they want with him."

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