Slogans and substance
For the second year the NDP places social justice atop its conference agenda, writes Gamal Essam El-Din
Members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) secretariat-general met yesterday to wrap up preparations for the party's fifth annual conference, scheduled for 1-3 November. President Hosni Mubarak earlier reviewed the conference agenda in a meeting held on 22 September.
NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif announced that in opening the conference on 1 November President Mubarak will place the spotlight on Egypt's social problems and strategies for alleviating poverty. "President Mubarak has ordered that social justice issues should form the lynchpin of this year's debates," said El-Sherif.
The conference will review progress in the NDP's two-year programme aimed at improving living conditions in Egypt's 1,000 poorest villages. Gamal Mubarak, President Mubarak's 45- year-old son and chairman of the NDP's influential Policies Committee, is spearheading the party's social justice campaign and has paid several visits to villages included in the programme. Selected by the Ministry of Economic Development in cooperation with the World Bank and the UN Development Fund, the aim of the programme is to provide Egypt's poorest communities with essential services such as potable water, sanitary drainage and elementary schools.
The conference will also debate the implementation of a new system of national health insurance designed to provide better quality healthcare to the most needy.
"President Mubarak has ordered that the NDP and government work together in order to ensure the success of the new system," said El-Sherif.
Providing families living below the poverty line with access to subsidised food products will also be discussed within the overall context of social justice, revealed El-Sherif. "Ministers most concerned with these issues, such as the social solidarity minister, are working on policies that will help minimise the impact of the dramatic rise in prices of strategic crops such as wheat on world markets," said El-Sherif.
The emphasis on the plight of Egypt's poor came as no surprise to commentators.
"Egypt has faced a series of disasters that have hit the poor in particular," says Ahmed El-Naggar, an economic analyst with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Events such as the landslide that buried more than 100 are seen as a test to slogans promoting social justice.
"NDP leaders know that this disaster, which was not the first of its kind, led to stinging criticism and left their credibility in tatters," argues El-Naggar. "The party conference will try to recover confidence by raising social justice slogans."
Recent high-profile criminal cases involving businessmen with links to the party have also eroded public trust. "Most citizens," says El-Naggar, "are indignant over developments in the cases involving NDP businessmen Hisham Talaat Mustafa, charged with inciting his bodyguard to murder Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim, and Emad El-Galada, a former NDP MP convicted of offering bribes to Ministry of Petroleum officials."
Gamal Mubarak has recently insisted that the NDP is not a party for businessmen, emphasising that the party welcomes all citizens who support its platform based on encouraging free enterprise and economic reform.
NDP Media Secretary Alieddin Hilal has also been at pains to stress that businessmen like Mustafa "are just members of the NDP".
"The fact that some stand trial or have been already found guilty of crimes," insists Hilal, "means that nobody is above the law."
El-Sherif also indicated that the conference will review the party's reaction to the Dweiqa disaster as well as devote the second day to debating the progress of democratisation measures, including a new election law aimed at increasing the participation of women in political life.
"President Mubarak has ordered that new constituencies be created in which competition is confined to women," said El-Sherif.
On 22 September Mubarak appointed one woman, Mo'mena Kamel, to head an NDP office in the newly-created providential governorates of Sixth of October.
Between 5 and 15 October the party will canvas grass-roots members in an attempt to identify their concerns. El-Sherif also announced that the NDP will be fielding journalist Abdel-Azim El-Basel and businessman Hatem El-Meligui as candidates in parliamentary by-elections due to be held in the Attsa district of Fayoum later on 12 October. Judicial disputes had left the seats vacant since the 2005 parliamentary elections.