The Nasserists may be in disarray, but their chairman doesn't seem to be doing much about it. Gamal Essam El-Din
When Diaaeddin Dawoud went out to vote in the recent parliamentary elections, the Nasserist candidate found himself surrounded by police, who prevented him from reaching the polling station. As it turns out, Dawoud's vote may have made a difference; after all, he only lost the race by 85 votes.
That small margin had a big impact on the party Dawoud has led for 13 years. In fact, the chairman's loss merely emphasised the Nasserists' sad state of affairs. In the end, not one of the party's 40 candidates won a seat. In the aftermath of this devastatingly poor showing, a number of leading members opted to resign. Others threatened to resign if a comprehensive internal reform and restructuring process did not occur. Much criticism was also directed at Dawoud and the party's mouthpiece, Al-Arabi.
And yet Dawoud, 79, still got a renewed vote of confidence from the party's 21- member politburo when it held an extraordinary meeting last Thursday to discuss the election results. It is this stranglehold on the party's leadership that has created a major rift between older and younger Nasserists. A similar dynamic plagues almost all of the country's 21 political parties, including the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
With the Nasserists, however, the generational conflict has placed the party in a virtual limbo. The clash between the two groups turned explosive in 1996, when Dawoud held on to the party's leadership despite a strong challenge from the younger crowd. He even went as far as preventing some of his young rivals, including Hamdeen Sabbahi, from running against him. Sabbahi and several others ended up leaving the party; they have been trying to form a new Nasserist-leaning party called Al-Karama (Dignity) ever since. Although a final court judgement on the validity of Sabbahi's party application will be delivered next week (4 February), Al-Karama candidates were still able to clinch two seats in the new People's Assembly.
Former ambassador Amin Yussri, a member of the Nasserists' politburo, said the parliamentary elections truly exposed the party's weaknesses. Although "25 years of a state of emergency, and a highly restrictive law regulating party activities, are largely to blame," Yussri said, the lack of democracy in secular, and especially leftist, parties, also played a major role.
At the 19 January politburo meeting, Dawoud was blamed for isolating the party from the masses. Yussri, for one, thinks Dawoud made a mistake by deciding not to run in the presidential elections; the campaign would have provided a golden opportunity to expose the public to the Nasserist platform and ideology. According to Yussri, however, dismissing Dawoud from the party's leadership -- which is what the Wafd Party is trying to do to its dictatorial chairman, Noaman Gomaa -- will not resolve the crisis. The real problem, he said, is that the leftist and nationalist ideologies upon which the Nasserist and Tagammu parties were founded no longer appeal to the masses.
Other members attribute the party's poor performance to the harsh stance its paper, Al-Arabi, has been taking against the regime. According to Ahmed Hassan, the party's secretary-general, the paper's hostile campaign against President Hosni Mubarak and what it terms the "grooming of his son Gamal to inherit power", pushed the regime into retaliating forcefully. "It was clear," Hassan said, "that the security forces received firm instructions to ensure that Dawoud be defeated". The paper's decision to devote much of its coverage to Muslim Brotherhood figures also weighed against some of the party's own candidates, he said.
In the wake of these accusations, Al-Arabi 's Co-Editor-in-Chief Abdel-Halim Qandil resigned, signing up to edit the would-be Karama Party's mouthpiece instead. Al-Arabi 's other chief editor, Abdallah El-Senawi, also said he was willing to resign, but not until March, when the paper's 1,000th issue is scheduled to appear. "By then," he said, "the party should have a clearer view of the paper's future." El-Senawi told Al-Ahram Weekly that Al-Arabi 's anti-Mubarak stance should have made the party proud: "thanks to the paper's campaign, the president has postponed the inheritance of power process." In El-Senawi's view, it is "ludicrous to allege that the paper's harsh stance had anything to do with the party's election failures, since most party members know just how weak the Nasserist candidates -- with the exception of Dawoud -- really are in their constituencies."
Making matters more complicated, the party is also seriously short of funds, a situation that has drastically curtailed its ability to function. As a result, thousands of members have fled. In 1992, the party had 15,000 members; today, there are less than 3,000.
Last week's politburo meeting ended with the formation of a "100-member committee", which will temporarily act as the party's think-tank as it prepares for a general conference in three months time. Political analyst Ahmed Abdel-Hafez, a politburo member, said the committee has also been charged with convincing hundreds of Nasserist members who resigned in recent years to come back to the party's fold. "The committee," he said, "believes that although the Nasserist ideology is still popular, it needs to be re-scrutinised in light of changing times." One thing, for example, that the Nasserists needed to do was drop their "aggressive attitude against businessmen and the privatisation of public sector companies and banks."
Abdel-Hafez said the committee would also set up a plan to recruit Nasserist cadres at universities, civil society organisations, trade unions and syndicates. "The party has to break its barrier of isolation," he said. "We can no longer be intimidated by the emergency law as we try to spread our ideology."