By Salama A Salama
The countdown to major change in the country's leaders and institutions may already be underway. The National Democratic Party (NDP) is perhaps preparing for a smooth transfer of power within its ranks, one that wouldn't involve the bequest of power -- or let's hope so.
NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif seems to be the man who's making it all happen. He promised that at the ninth NDP general congress, slated for November, more than one candidate would be allowed to run for the post of NDP leader. This would be a first. The NDP has never before selected its leader through secret ballot.
This statement by El-Sherif was followed by a less straightforward one: speaking at a meeting of NDP young workers and farmers in Alexandria, the NDP secretary-general said it was time for the NDP's old leaders to step aside and make room for younger blood. This statement poses more than one question. Would El-Sherif and his cohort finally step down? And is the NDP getting ready to present a new leadership to the public?
The wheels are already in motion. The NDP is planning elections for the lower echelons across the country, allowing anyone to run so long as candidates secure the minimum support of their colleagues. This is unusually democratic by NDP standards. It means that we have one of two possibilities.
One is that President Hosni Mubarak refrains from nominating himself as NDP leader, which would leave room for younger, and predictable, candidates to step in. Such a step would allow the presidency to be separated from the NDP leadership. The NDP may decide to give President Mubarak honorary leadership, while allowing the new team of the Policies Committee the chance to lead the party ahead of parliamentary elections in 2010 and presidential elections in 2011.
The other possibility is that President Mubarak once again runs for the NDP leadership, in which case changes within the NDP would remain cosmetic and there would be no need to get rid of the old leaders, although they are often blamed for corruption within the party and for failing to win elections without fraud or police intervention.
In the absence of transparency within the NDP, one cannot foresee any other possibilities apart from the ones above. This is sad, for change within the NDP is a big thing, not just to people who benefit from that party in many creative ways, but because our future and democracy depends on it.
Many, including myself, have repeatedly called for the NDP leadership and the presidency to be kept separate. The president of the state should be the president of all Egyptians, regardless of their party and political and doctrinal affiliations. Once the NDP leadership and the presidency are disassociated, it would not matter if President Mubarak is replaced by his son as NDP chief. Should this happen, the president of the state would be a fair arbiter among various parties. And the bias of the state apparatus, including the media and the police, to the NDP would be a thing of the past.
This may not happen immediately, but we need to make it happen. We cannot have government departments acting as affiliates of the NDP. A disassociation between the NDP and the presidency would bring back the NDP to size and allow this country to have rotation of power once more.
It is not clear yet if the current process in the NDP will end its monopoly in leadership or just pave the way for Gamal Mubarak to become NDP leader. The next few months will furnish the answer. Much in regional and national affairs will be decided on the outcome.